Osama bin Laden Wanted Most of His $29 Million Fortune to Be Used on Jihad

US release bin Laden documents
A bin Laden always pays his debts. Photo: STR/Corbis

When Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011, they also seized things like bin Laden’s diary, his handwritten notes and letters, dozens of flash drives, and his porn collection. U.S. intelligence has been combing through these documents for clues as to how Al Qaeda operated under bin Laden, and Tuesday at least two of a cache of 113 documents have been declassified. One is a letter reportedly composed in the late 1990s that outlines how bin Laden would like the remainder of his fortune — $29 million — to be distributed in the event of his death, according to Reuters. In it bin Laden makes certain provisions for his family but asks that his relatives “spend all the money that I have left in Sudan on jihad, for the sake of Allah.”

He also wants to make sure his debts are paid; he requests that one percent of the $29 million (so $290,000) be given to Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, better known as Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, a senior Al Qaeda militant. The letter notes that al-Mauritani has “already received $20-30,000,” and that bin Laden “promised him that I would reward him if he took it out of the Sudani government.” He also asks that Abu Ibrahim al-Iraqi Sa’ad receive his own one percent as a “reward for his hard work in the Wadi al-Aqiq Company,” a holdings company bin Laden founded while he was based in Sudan — he lived there as an official guest until the government kicked him out in 1996, per the United States’ request. 

Never one to skimp on details, bin Laden asks for specific amounts, in Saudi riyals, to go to his uncle, sisters, daughter, son, and his son’s mother, and that his maternal aunts be given two pounds of gold for each male relative and one pound for each female relative. “The conversation about the money in Sudan is over,” he writes.

In a separate letter to his father, which was also released Tuesday, bin Laden asks that his father look after his wife and children in the event that he should die first. “They are from me and I am from you, and they are your sons, too,” he writes. He goes on: “I would like you to forgive me, if I have done what you did not like, and convey my greetings to all our family. I ask God almighty to give you victory over his enemies, and to establish the Islamic state at the hands of the Mujahideen, sooner or later.”

Even after bin Laden’s death, the myth persisted that he was a financial pillar of Al Qaeda, when in fact the organization was financed primarily by fund-raising, according to a report by the 9/11 Commission published in 2004. “[Bin Laden] does not support al Qaeda through a personal fortune or a network of businesses,” the Commission wrote. “[He] did not have large sums of inherited money or extensive business resources. Rather, it appears that al Qaeda lived essentially hand to mouth.” Funding an international terrorist organization, as ISIS has learned, is no easy task.

Bin Laden Wanted His Fortune Used on Jihad