On Monday, the Chosun Ilbo reported on deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s recently revealed documents hinting at attacks on American interests in South Korea and East Asia:
One year before his death, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden considered attacking a U.S. facility in Korea, newly disclosed documents reveal. The U.S. government says it found the documents during the assassination of bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011 and published them on the website of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on May 3.
The documents consist of 175 pages of Arabic originals and English translations of letters written by bin Laden to close aides from September 2006 until April 2011.
In a letter addressed to former al-Qaeda deputy leader Atiyah Abd al-Rahma in May 2010, bin Laden mentions Korea as a target for attack. “I would also like to seek your advice on an opinion as follows: whatever exceeds our capability or what we are unable to disburse on attacks inside America, as well as on the Jihad in open fronts, would be disbursed targeting American interests in non-Islamic countries first, such as South Korea,” bin Laden writes according to the somewhat garbled translation. “We shall avoid carrying out attacks in Islamic countries except for the countries that fell under invasion and direct occupation.”
This apparently means that it had become harder to strike the U.S. mainland due to tight security there and in the Middle East amid mounting discontent with al-Qaeda because so many Muslims were killed in terror attacks.
Although bin Laden does not specify the “American interests” he wanted to target in Korea, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said the U.S. Army bases in Korea would have been the likeliest targets. The U.S. has pledged to make more documents found at the Abottabad compound available as translations are completed. (Source: The Chosun Ilbo)
My first though after reading the above article led back to my time in Japan. Visiting clients at industrial locations and power plants, I was often shocked at my ability to move around freely with the barest of security clearances (if any at all). At the time, I’d hypothesized that Japan’s lack of corporate security left it open to terrorist threats against its industrial sector, though I imagined it would be hard for an actual “terrorist cell” to move around and function in Japan’s homogeneous society, unless the threat originated in-country. (It’s likely a wonderfully thriving world for information spies though)
The American embassy in Tokyo does not subscribe to similar carefree security measures. It’s a massive and many-layered fortress, akin to Magneto’s jail in X-men. It was sad seeing such an entrenched and fortified American presence in a peaceful, allied nation, drawing massive security resources and manpower solely to maintain a foothold on international soil.
Bin Laden was naive to think that a group of terrorists could find success in attacking American interests in East Asia, especially where any terrorist cell’s “alien-ness” would stick out like a sore thumb. I will assume, having noticed far more prevalent security forces in Korea when matched against Japan, that embassy defense would at least be comparable in Seoul, if not higher due to America’s tricky relationship with Seoul’s Northern neighbor.
Brainstorming attacks on heavily defended compounds paints a desperate and of touch Bin Laden at time of his death. While countries like Japan could work on better protecting their corporate and industrial assets, U.S. embassies in East Asia are hard enough to penetrate as a card-carrying Americans, let alone terrorist cells bent on attack.
Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch