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Trouble In the Cave

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990’s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.



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