The world’s most wanted terrorist lived his last five years imprisoned behind the barbed wire and high walls of his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, his days consumed by dark arts and domesticity.
American officials believe that Osama bin Laden spent many hours on the computer, relying on couriers to bring him thumb drives packed with information from the outside world. It is a portrait of an isolated man, perhaps a little bored, presiding over family life while plotting mayhem — still desperate to be heard, intent on outsize influence, musing in his handwritten notebooks about killing more Americans.
Videos seized from Bin Laden’s compound and released by the Obama administration on Saturday showed him wrapped in an old blanket watching himself on TV, like an aging actor imagining a comeback. A senior intelligence official said other videos showed him practicing and flubbing his lines in front of a camera. He was interested enough in his image, the official said, to dye his white beard black for the recordings.
The hastily-called Saturday briefing featured five video snippets the official said were found at Bin Laden’s compound and that were highly unlikely to have been in the possession of anyone other than the al Qaeda leader.
One video was a "Message to America" from bin Laden similar to previous taped messages sent over the years to Al Jazeera and other Arab television networks. But the video shown to reporters had no audio. Officials said they had removed it because the U.S. government is "not in the business of spreading the word of al Qaeda."
The message clip was taped between Oct. 9 and Nov. 5, 2010, the official said. It showed bin Laden in a white turban, his beard dyed dark brown. In it, according to the official, he reprised his favorite themes, speaking out against the United States and "denigrating capitalism."
But it is another video that reveals more about the al Qaeda leader. In it, a tired looking bin Laden sits on a carpet on the floor of a bare-walled room. He is wearing a black knit cap and wrapped in a blanket or large overcoat. His beard is almost white.
He looks at a small television screen menu with the channel tuned to Al Jazeera. Then iconic clips of bin Laden on the battlefield and walking along a stony hillside with Ayman al Zawahiri -- another al Qaeda leader and bin Laden's possible successor. Other video clips that have served as the world’s only image of bin Laden for nearly a decade come on the screen. Slowly the camera pans over to bin Laden, who holds a remote control.