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Insight into Terror

James Kellerman

So you run an internationally feared terrorist organization and you find one of your senior terrorists is breaking the rules, what do you do? Drop them into a tank of ravenous pirana fish, cut them in half with a giant saw, apparently if you are al-qaeda you send off a nasty memo...

"I was very upset by what you did," Atef wrote. "I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family's trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. ... Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit ... furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property ... I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation."

The memo by Atef, who later died in the U.S.-led assault on Osama bin Laden's Afghan refuge in 2001, is among recently declassified documents that reveal a little-known side of the network. Although Al Qaeda has endured thanks to a loose and flexible structure, its internal culture has nonetheless been surprisingly bureaucratic and persistently fractious, investigators and experts say.