Bin Laden scuttled plan for "Pickup Trucks of Death"

Spencer Ackerman,'s Danger Room

Osama bin Laden was a conspiracy theorist who twisted religion to justify mass murder. But even he thought constructing a monster truck of doom crossed a certain line of taste.

Information is just starting to trickle out of the huge tranche of hard drives, removable media, voice recorders and notebooks the Navy SEALs harvested from bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. As a multi-agency intelligence task force sifts through the info, bin Laden preliminarily appears like a commander who gives "fairly generic, broad instructions" to al-Qaida, a senior U.S. official told the Washington Post, attempting to keep al-Qaida focused on attacking the U.S. and Europe.


And that brought him into conflict with his Yemen affiliate — specifically, an English-language magazine purportedly published by it, which encouraged Muslims to turn American streets into deathly monster truck rallies.

Inspire magazine's second issue, published last summer, was all about convincing U.S. Muslims to do whatever they could locally for the jihad. One suggestion: constructing an "ultimate mowing machine" — tricking out a pickup truck by welding "blades" to the grill, to "mow down the enemies of Allah."

Baroque proposals like that fuel speculation in national security circles that Inspire may be the work of a western security service — a spoof on terrorist propaganda, rather than an authentic vehicle for it. If so, Osama bought it hook, line, and three-quarter ton sinker.

"Bin Laden said this is something he did not endorse. He seems taken aback," a U.S. counterterrorism official tells ProPublica. "He complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter. He says he rejects this and it is not something that reflects what al-Qaida does."


Yes, Osama bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11, leader of an organization that has killed thousands of people — mostly Muslims — worldwide, thinks ramming people with a blade-enhanced truck like the T-1000 guest-starring in "Road Warrior" represents "indiscriminate slaughter." It's beneath al-Qaida's dignity. It might be too much to expect one of his documents to explain why flying planes packed with people into crowded office buildings isn't indiscriminate slaughter.

Top photo: AP/truck image: Inspire magazine

This story originally appeared on's Danger Room on May 12, 2011, and was republished with permission.


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