Osama bin Laden aspired to damage the United States not only through persistent terror attacks, but also by attempting to inflame race and class tensions in hopes of tearing down the country from the inside out, according to officials briefed on the evidence trove recovered from the al Qaeda leader's Pakistan compound.
According to materials in the cache of documents recovered in the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that brought down the terror leader, bin Laden planned to specifically recruit African-American Muslim converts to carry out attacks on the homeland. The goal was to not only kill and maim in the actual operations, but to create a divisiveness that would cause more damage than al Qaeda could ever hope to do on their own.
"Because there were many blacks in the U.S., he wanted to capitalize on them to further the jihadi cause," one U.S. official told ABC News. "Al Qaeda sees the black convert community as ripe for recruiting."
While it has long been known that radical preachers and some prison imams have targeted the convert community for jihad recruitment, the references show core al Qaeda's keen interest in the tactic.
"This is pretty heady stuff," another person briefed on the material said.
But it's also strategy that civil rights activist and President of the National Action Network Rev. Al Sharpton said was "radical" and outrageous.
"I think it would be the most cynical abuse of African-Americans and America in general," Sharpton told ABC News. "Remember, Osama bin Laden killed blacks, whites, Latinos, everyone on 9/11... For him to use race relations in the U.S. in a way to support his terroristic barbarism is the absolute height of cynicism."
Minority groups have previously suffered in the aftermath of terror attacks or attempted attacks, though most of those incidents have been directed at Muslim-Americans. Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said those incidents are not indicative of the American people and any belief by bin Laden that he could prompt widespread violence in such a way between any groups was a "fantasy."
"I think the viewpoint reflects more of a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist outlook on American whites than anything based in reality," he said. "I think it's fantasy based on a fundamental misunderstanding of American society."
Still, Sharpton said that the revelation about al Qaeda's targeting of minorities should serve "not as a wake-up call as much as a tap on the shoulder" to minority leaders.
If racial tensions have created a vulnerability in U.S. national security, Sharpton said, "it becomes the responsibility for those of us in black leadership and activism to make sure that we carefully monitor who we let in our ranks and for what... and try to understand that we cannot be exploited as we try to stop the continuing injustices."
In the past, officials believed al Qaeda attempted to recruit fair-skinned European or Americans jihadis.