In the newly declassified letters found in Osama bin Laden’s compound, references to Jews, Israel and Zionists demonstrate the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in Al Qaeda’s highest echelons, as well as Al Qaeda’s intentional targeting of Jews and Jewish institutions.
The letters also demonstrate the extent to which Al Qaeda viewed anti-Semitism as a valuable motivating factor for terrorism: References to Jews were far more frequent in propaganda pieces and in items discussing plans for propaganda than in strategic memos or other letters.
Several of the letters directly discuss targeting Jews. One section of a memo on external operations reads, “In regards to targeting…the Jews as per the orders,” and details the prioritization of attacks against Jews. Another document highlights “the beautiful huge bombing… of the western German bakery mainly visited by Jews and western nationals,” and a third document, addressed to the Syrian people, states, “If you want to resist, as you claim, we challenge you and your party to shoot one bullet against the Jews! So show us the Jews as your targets...”
Some of the documents also direct praise at other terrorist organizations for their attacks against Jews. One memo summarizing the military situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan highlights the Al Qaeda affiliated Abdallah Azzam Brigades, calling the group, “a small group of brothers in Lebanon who fired rockets against the Jews once, twice, or more….May God greatly reward them.”
As noted, this targeting and general use of anti-Semitism occurs with far greater frequency and vitriol in propaganda. One propaganda piece released states that the fighters were not exhausted in, “battles with the poodles of America and Israel … or the many other Jews shoe lickers...They refused to be fooled into tackling the servants, while the commander in chief and protector of infidelity, Zionism and evil.”
That same article later harangues, “filth of [the American and European] Zionist capitalist masters producing the money and manpower which their masters utilize to seek to destroy Israel's enemies and to rob the people of the globe of their minds, honor, land, resources, chastity, minerals, oil, and lives!!!” and urges fighters in, “this Jihad and holy struggle against America, Israel and its friends' Ziocrusade...”
Letters and memos discussing propaganda pieces clarify the intentionality of using anti-Semitism as a motivational tactic. One letter asks, “Did you think about issuing a statement to the nation to show solidarity with the people?... It should also say that the Jewish state is about to end, and so on.”
This use of anti-Semitism is also strategically targeted. One memo notes that they should “avoid talking about the Jews and Palestine when talking to the Germans,” because, “This subject is very sensitive in Germany.”
Many of the regular, non-propaganda memos do not include any references to Jews, Zionists or Israel. Where they do, however, they, too, demonstrate a pervasive anti-Semitism in Al Qaeda's highest echelons, centering on beliefs that Jews control the West and are unnaturally powerful. One letter, for example, claimed, “the Jews were able to control world forces with these two sciences, sociology and psychology.” Another letter suggested that the Shi’a terrorist group Hezbollah (which has engaged in fighting with Israel) is controlled by Jews seeking to kill Sunni Muslims and another suggests that the Saudi royal family calls for “blind obedience to the ruler, who support Jews and Christians.” Yet another criticizes “people whose mannerisms resemble those of the Jews...”
The conspiracy theories against Jews are also related to several of the books found in Bin Laden’s library, including the book Secrets of the Federal Reserve by Eustace Mullins, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier.
There is also criticism of Israel and of American support for Israel, which is regularly listed as one of several reasons for attacking the U.S. Support for Jews is also listed as a rationale for deposing of Arab governments. References to “Zionists and Crusaders” as the enemy are frequent and, although the name ‘Israel’ is sometimes used in memos to name the state, ‘Jew’ is always used instead of ‘Israeli.’
In all 103 declassified documents, the word ‘Jew’ comes up 36 times; Israel 16, and Zionist 6 ( This does not include compound words like Ziocrusade or Qu’ranic quotes on unrelated topics). The words ‘Quds’ and ‘Jerusalem’ are not referenced.
Anti-Semitism has been a central element of Al Qaeda’s ideology since the organization’s founding, and it is a regular feature in Al Qaeda propaganda, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP’s) infamous English-language magazine, Inspire. Anti-Semitism is also regularly used to motivate adherents and encourage recruits by many other terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).