Bin Laden, according to Gartenstein-Ross’s reading of the tiny fraction of the Abbottabad papers that have been made public, personally maintained communication with AQIM’s leaders right into 2011. In his letters to far-away North Africa, bin Laden offered advice (or commands, it’s not clear which) to the group’s leaders.

Some suggestions were small or general – “planting trees helps al mujahedin [fighters] and gives them cover” from satellites and drones – but others quite specific. In spring of 2010, bin Laden asked AQIM to shelter a jihadist named Younis al-Mauritani and to provide him with 200,000 Euros. A few months later, Western intelligence agencies discovered a terrorism plot to launch major, simultaneous attacks in several European cities. They named al-Mauritani as the suspected organizer. He was arrested in Pakistan a year later.

In April 2011, as the Western military intervention in Libya accelerated, bin Laden offered AQIM a point-by-point plan for how the group should handle some French hostages it had taken.