From the Bin Laden Letters: Mapping OBL’s Reach into Yemen

Posted: 11th May 2012

Following our initial analysis of the Osama bin Laden letters released by Combating Terrorism Center  (CTC) * at West Point, we’ll more closely examine interesting moments from the letters and size them up against what was publicly reported as happening in the world in order to gain a deeper perspective on what was known or unknown at the time.*

Isolating and analyzing references to those in Yemen with relations to Osama bin Laden (OBL), as identified in the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) letters, we find a few key al-Qaeda individuals associated with the country in the correspondence of OBL.

Highlighted are several of the prominent actors, and below, we’ll examine the social network for several of those figures:

  1. Anwar al-Awlaki (senior AQAP spokesman and recruiter, killed September 2011)
  2. Saeed al-Shihri (deputy leader of AQAP, killed in February 2011)
  3. Nasir al-Wuhayshi (senior AQAP leader and OBL’s former secretary)

From “Closed Source” to Open Source

To do so, we’ll switch from the isolated instance of Recorded Future used for analysis of the letters (our separate repository to examine just the OBL documents) to the full Recorded Future index of events culled from more than 150,000 public sources. There we can look at relations for each of these three individuals during the same timeframe covered by the corpus of letters – 2006 to 2011.


In addition to OBL himself, there are several individuals that actually tie into all three of those highlighted above. One of the most prominent is Qasim al-Raymi , a high ranking member of the AQAP leadership and a prison escapee alongside al-Wuhayshi in 2006.

One item to to note in the network graph of al-Raymi’s connections shown below is the bsence of a direct connection to Bin Laden .

The second name to link up with al-Wuhayshi, al-Shihri, and al-Awlaki is Yemeni journalist Abdul Elah Haidar Shaea , who was sentenced in early 2011 to five years for serving as a media advisor to AQAP. Court proceedings alleged that Shaea had high profile meetings with each of those AQAP head figures cited above as well as Qasim al-Raymi.

The Haidar Shaea event is particularly interesting when adding context by way of the letters featured in the CTC release, paricularly  document 00000016 dated October 2010 to Nasir al-Wuhayshi that outlines the stance and value on image through the media: “We need to understand that a huge part of the battle is the media, and the cable channels today play a stronger role than the Hja‟in poets during the ignorant era.”

Scanning the full network and the subsequent relations connected to Qasim al-Raymi there is a single Western name: Adam Gadahn .

Gadahn is an American born media spokesman for Al-Qaeda that shows close connections to each of the three highlighted OBL ties in Yemen. He is also presumed to be the author of one of the letters released by CTC, and in producing and appearing in a number of a propaganda videos during the last decade is tightly knit into this social network of AQAP.


Isolated edges in the broad network above also describe segmentation of responsibilities and unique relationships. Recently in the news AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was linked to al-Awlaki, but not others, through their respective roles in setting in motion the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit in December 2009; al-Asiri was, in fact, initially believed to be killed in attacks on al-Awlaki in May and September 2011. However, recent events show that al-Asiri is very much active in orchestrating strikes against the United States.

One other standout name, in a network full of men, is Haylah al Qassir . She is connected to Saeed al-Shihri by way of a video released after her arrest calling for the kidnapping of Saudi officials as retribution. Al-Qassir was reportedly a main conduit of funding and recruiting for AQAP.


This analysis provides an overview of the individuals in Yemen that were closely tied to Osama bin Laden during the period of his correspondence from Abbottabad, and then shifts to leverage the expanse of media coverage and discussion on AQAP to identify individuals tightly woven into that network that remain influential in AQAP today.

In doing so, we’re able to identify key people to track going forward:

  • Nasir al-Wuhayshi
  • Qasim al-Raymi
  • Abdul Elah Haidar Shaea
  • Adam Gadahn
  • Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri
  • Haylah al Al-Qassir

Undoubtedly, we’re only scratching the surface, and there’s so much more to untangle even just from the relations above. We’ll continue to share analysis on related issues in an attempt to connect the dots between the correspondence released by CTC and the vast public record we have on Al-Qaeda, but if you have questions or want to do a more comprehensive examination of these relationships, contact Recorded Future.