Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden joined the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1979Getty

Osama bin Laden was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's struggle against the British Empire, a cache of audio tapes belonging to the late al-Qaeda leader has revealed.

They also show that the jihadist was more concerned with moderate Muslims during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with much of his speeches during the time containing almost no reference to the US.

The revelations come from a collection of 1,500 audio cassettes recovered from a building in Kandahar, where senior al-Qaeda figures met before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The tapes, which were left behind when Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda fighters hastily abandoned the city during the invasion, were studied by Flagg Miller, an expert in Arabic literature and culture from the University of California.

Jihad against Muslims

Bin Laden left behind a life of luxury in Saudi Arabia to join the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance against the Soviet Union and is first heard in a tape from 1987.

"Bin Laden wanted to create an image of an effective militant – no easy job, because he was known as a bit of a dandy, who wore designer desert boots," Miller, who is the only person to have heard the collection in full, said in an interview to the BBC.

"But he was very sophisticated at self-marketing, and the audio tapes in this collection are very much part of that story – the myth-making.

"What's fascinating is how Bin Laden is speaking about the ways in which the Arabian Peninsula is threatened – but who is the enemy? It's not the United States, as we often think, or the West. It's other Muslims.

"They are Shia first and foremost. They are Iraqi Baathists. They are Communists and Egyptian Nasserists.

"Bin Laden wanted to bring jihad to the question of who is a true Muslim."

September 11 attacks
The September 11 attacks left nearly 3,000 people deadGetty

Gandhi gets a surprise mention in the tapes, with the late al-Qaeda chief calling on Muslims to boycott US goods in 1993, similar to tactics employed by the charismatic Indian leader in his struggle against British colonial rule.

"Consider the case of Great Britain, an empire so vast that some say the sun never set on it," Bin Laden says in the recording.

"Britain was forced to withdraw from one of its largest colonies when Gandhi the Hindu declared a boycott against their goods. We must do the same thing today with America."

Reference to 9/11 in tapes

The only reference to 9/11 is found in a taping of a wedding of one of Bin Laden's bodyguards, recorded a few months before the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

"There's a lot of mirth on the tape and then Bin Laden comes up, and it's no longer mirth. He talks about how celebration is important, but it mustn't overshadow more austere issues," said Miller, who has published a book about his findings called The Austere Ascetic.

"He talks explicitly about 'a plan' – he doesn't reveal details – and how we are 'about to hear news' and he asks God to 'grant our brothers success'.

"I understand that to signify the 9/11 attacks [because] he is talking specifically about the United States at that juncture."