The Guardian newspaper took down Osama bin Laden's 2002 'Letter to America' after it was widely shared on social media
The Guardian newspaper took down Osama bin Laden's 2002 'Letter to America' after it was widely shared on social media AFP News

British newspaper The Guardian has removed from its website a 21-year-old message written by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, after it was shared several million times on social media.

Bin Laden's "Letter to America" began being shared on TikTok on Tuesday, sparking a fierce debate about US backing for Israel in its current war against Hamas.

Bin Laden was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks 22 years ago that killed nearly 3,000 people by crashing passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

The White House sharply criticized the online phenomenon and TikTok said it was taking measures to remove the posts involved.

The transcript includes bin Laden's assertion that the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001 due to its support of Israel.

Links to the original were replaced on the Guardian website with a statement saying it had been shared "without the full context".

"This page previously displayed a document containing, in translation, the full text of Osama bin Laden's 'letter to the American people', which was reported on in the Observer on Sunday 24 November 2002," it wrote.

"The transcript published on our website had been widely shared on social media without the full context. Therefore we decided to take it down and direct readers instead to the news article that originally contextualised it."

The White House in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, said "no one should ever insult the 2,977 American families still mourning loved ones by associating themselves with the vile words of Osama bin Laden."

"Particularly now, at a time of rising antisemitic violence in the world, and just after Hamas terrorists carried out the worst slaughter of the Jewish people since the Holocaust in the name of the same conspiracy theories," it added.

TikTok said on X that it was "proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform."

"This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media," the Chinese-owned app added.

Bin Laden's message, released a year after 9/11, outlined his objections to Western activities in Muslim nations, condemning the United States for its backing of Israel and its approach towards the Palestinian regions.

It also denounces what he described as Western "lies, immorality and debauchery" and argued that attacks against civilians and the United States were justified as a result.

"They threw hundreds of thousands of soldiers against us and have formed an alliance with the Israelis to oppress us and occupy our land -- that was the reason for our response on the eleventh," it said.

The origin of the trend has been pinned by various media outlets on a video posted Tuesday by a TikTok influencer with 12 million likes on her profile.

"I need everyone to stop what they're doing right now and go read -- it's literally two pages -- go read 'A Letter to America'," the influencer wrote.

"Come back here and let me know what you think. Because I feel like I'm going through like an existential crisis right now, and a lot of people are. So I just need someone else to be feeling this too."

The letter has been received with widely positive comments by social media users with trending searches on TikTok including "Osama letter to America summary" and "a letter to America explained".

TikTok insisted that the number of videos involved was small and that "reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate."

After nearly 10 years as the world's most wanted man, bin Laden was tracked down and killed by US special forces at his compound in Pakistan in 2011.