It's been more than a decade since two boxes of tapes from an al-Qaeda stronghold in Afghanistan landed in the office of Arabic literature and culture expert Flagg Miller, at the University of California, Davis.
Over the next several years, Miller poured over 1,500 tapes, 200 speakers and five decades of al-Qaeda — and Osama bin Laden.
He’s still the only person to listen to the whole collection. He talks about his work in a report by the BBC this week, and it gives key insight to many aspects on bin Laden's life, but especially his relationship with America.
Here's three things to take away.
1. In the beginning, bin Laden was more concerned with Shiites than he was with America. Early recordings show it's Iraqi Baathists, Egyptian Nasserists and communists bin Laden takes issue with, Miller says, not America. In fact, these early speeches don’t even mention the US.
2. Then in September 1993, a speech about US boycotts and embassies. This is the first recording where America comes up — but not in the way you might think. Bin Laden tells supporters to send a message to the US by boycotting its goods, and spur change by writing to US embassies.
3. The only real mention of 9/11 comes at the very last bit of the tapes. During a recording of a friend's wedding, bin Laden and his associates talk a ‘plan,’ and mentions the US explicitly, but without details. A few months later, the September 11 attacks happened. But as Miller notes, there is such little lead up to this moment. He tells the BBC: "There is nothing inevitable about 9/11 on these tapes. It was hard working on these tapes to remind myself of that."
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