The images, snapped in 1996, were made public at a trial for an al-Qaeda lieutenant last month

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated March 13, 2015 04:50 PM

Osama bin Laden remained an elusive, frightening figure until his death in 2011.

But newly released photographs offer a rare peek at the terrorist mastermind at his famed Tora Bora compound – before the 2001 terrorist attacks he orchestrated changed the course of history.

The images emerged last month at the trial of Khaled al-Fawwaz, an al-Qaeda operative who worked closely with bin Laden in the mid-1990s, CNN reports.

The photographs were taken in 1996 by Palestinian journalist Abdel Barri Atwan, the founder and then-editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an independent Arabic weekly published in London, according to CNN. Bin Laden reportedly admired the journalist, and invited Atwan to help him publicize his work in the mountains of Afghanistan.

The images Atwan snapped paint a primitive – and chilling – picture of the terrorist at work.

Pictures show bin Laden in a makeshift bed, fortified with guns and books. Maps are crudely taped to the wall, and video cameras are visible, seemingly to record his jihadist messages to the world. An outdoor image captures the terrain: rugged and snow-capped.

According to CNN, Atwan told Peter Bergen for his 2006 book, The Osama bin Laden I Know, that he met bin Laden in his 13 by 20 foot cave lined with books about the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed. He reportedly said the budding al-Qaeda leader was never without his Kalashnikov rifle and enjoyed long walks around the compound.

It’s believed bin Laden abandoned the compound in December 2001, shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.