Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday in a firefight with US forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, and then buried at sea.
“Justice has been done,” President Obama said in a dramatic White House speech announcing the death of the elusive terrorist.
An American official said US forces administered Muslim religious rites for bin in Laden aboard an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.
“Today religious rights were conducted for the deceased on the deck of the USS Carl-Vinson which is located in the North Arabian Sea,” a senior defense official said. “Traditional procedures for Islamic burial were followed. The deceased’s body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat-board... (and) eased into the sea.”
However, a spokesman for Al-Azhar, the top Sunni Muslim authority said Islam was opposed to burials at sea.
“If it is true that the body was thrown into the sea, then Islam is totally against that,” Mahmud Azab, an adviser to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, told Agence-France Presse.
More details surfaced Monday evening about bin Laden’s death as US administration officials spoke about the operations. The Washington Post reported that a woman believed to be a wife of bin Laden was used as a human shield when US Navy SEALs stormed his compound.
“She was positioned in a way that indicated she was being used as a shield,” The Post quoted John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. The woman, whose name was not given, was killed in the attack.
Another woman, who was also described as one of bin Laden’s wives, helped identify his body.
Mr. Brennan said that it was “inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system” in Pakistan that allowed him to live comfortably with his family. He said that US officials were pursuing this with the Pakistanis, who were pointedly not informed about the raid before it took place, The Post said.
bin Laden’s death occurred almost a decade after the September 11 attacks that he orchestrated against the US, killing thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The news electrified the world community, and brought jubilation in countries that have suffered from terrorism perpetuated by Mr. bin Laden’s organization, Al-Qaeda. Leaders worldwide praised the killing as a dramatic success in the war against Al-Qaeda, a mood reflected in financial markets. The dollar and stocks rose, while oil and gold fell, on the view Mr. bin Laden's death reduced global security risks.
A crowd gathered outside the White House to celebrate, chanting, “USA, USA,” according to Reuters.
President Obama said US forces led the operation that killed bin Laden. No Americans were killed in the operation and they took care to avoid civilian casualties, he said. The US Special Forces team—consisting of Navy SEALS—that hunted down Osama bin Laden was under orders to kill the Al-Qaeda mastermind, not capture him, a US national security official told Reuters.
“This was a kill operation,” the official said, making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.
His remarks seemed to be contradicted on Monday by Mr. Brennan, who said that if the US team could have captured bin Laden alive, it would have.
“The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of men, women and children,” President Obama said.
DNA tests on the body of bin Laden showed a virtual 100 percent match to relatives, and a woman believed to be his wife also identified him by name, a senior US intelligence official told reporters.
The United States was now reviewing a large cache of materials seized at the compound in Pakistan where US forces killed bin Laden, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to reporters.
It was a major accomplishment for Mr. Obama and his national security team, after many Americans had given up hope of ever finding bin Laden. Some speculated that he was already dead of renal failure, and that his associates had sustained the illusion of his being alive in order to flummox pursuers such as the US.
Al Arabiya terrorism experts noted on Monday that, although the West has contended that its people have been the main targets of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, most of the attacks that the terrorist organization have carried out have been in Arab and Muslim countries. They note that in the last few years, 8,000 of Al-Qaeda’s 15,000 victims have been Arabs and Muslims.
Al-Qaeda started its operations in Yemen in 2000 by targeting the US Navy. In one of its first operations, the group killed 17 people. More than 3,000 people died in the September 2001 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Some 14 people died in an attack on a synagogue in Jerba, Tunisia. More than 100 people have been killed in Al-Qaeda operations in Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, thousands have of killed in Iraq by Al-Qaeda affiliates; more than 300 Algerians (and others) have died at its hands in Algeria; bombings in Casablanca in 2003 resulted in the deaths of 30 people, and last week 16 people (including 7 Europeans) died in Marrakesh in a bombing attack on a café—the attack bore the hallmark of Al-Qaeda operations, according to a senior Moroccan minister. In August 2005, 57 people were killed in a bombing in Amman. Jordan, among them the famous director, Mustafa Alaqqad.
And beyond the Arab world, Al-Qaeda has conducted deadly operations in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania; Nairobi, Kenya; Madrid; London; Bali; and Pakistan.
Such operations have required access to vast wealth, and to stocks of weaponry, raising the question of sources of Al-Qaeda’s funding.
Former president George W. Bush, who was in office at the time of the September 11 attacks and famously said he wanted Mr. bin Laden dead or alive, said the death of the Al-Qaeda leader was a “momentous achievement.”
“The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. Mr. Bush and President Obama spoke by phone before the latter made his televised speech late Sunday evening at The White House.
Mr. Bush had repeatedly vowed to bring bin Laden to justice “dead or alive” for the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people, but never did before leaving office in early 2009.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised President Obama and the US military and intelligence communities Monday on the death of Mr. bin laden. He called it “a victory for the United States and a tremendous achievement for the military and intelligence professionals who carried out this important mission.”
“I also want to congratulate President Obama and the members of his national security team,” Mr. Cheney said. “We must remain vigilant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day. Today, the message our forces have sent is clear—if you attack the United States, we will find you and bring you to justice.”
US officials said that after searching in vain for the Al-Qaeda leader since he disappeared in Afghanistan in late 2001, the Saudi-born extremist was killed in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, which is 50 kilometers from Islamabad, and his body recovered.
Having the body may help convince any doubters that Mr. bin Laden is really dead. The US military is believed to have taken scores of photographs and videos of Mr. bin Laden before his burial at sea on Monday. Some pictures began circulating on the Internet on Monday, although their origin and authenticity could not be independently verified.
Bin Laden had been the subject of a search since he eluded US soldiers and Afghan militia forces in a large-scale assault on the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan in 2001.
The trail quickly went cold after he disappeared and many intelligence officials believed he had been hiding in Pakistan.
While in hiding, bin Laden had taunted the West, and advocated his militant Islamist views in videotapes spirited from his hideaway.
Besides September 11, Washington has also linked bin Laden to a string of attacks—including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen.
A US official said Pakistani authorities were given the details of the raid after it had taken place.
The revelation that bin Laden was living in style will hugely embarrass Pakistani officials, who will be under pressure to explain how he could have been right under their noses. Residents in Abbottabad said a Pakistani military training academy is near the compound. Some observers said that it stretched credulity that bin Laden’s large—and heavily guarded—compound could have escaped scrutiny of Pakistani authorities.
“For some time there will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad,” said Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst.
It was unclear who would now take over the terrorist organization, although some observers said Monday that it had developed a broad network of self-sustaining cells around the world. Perhaps some cells might be motivated to carry out new terrorist activities in order to underscore bin Laden’s objective of destroying Western civilization.
Leon Panetta—Director of the Central Intelligence Agency—warned that terrorist groups “almost certainly” will try to avenge bin Laden’s death.
Nevertheless, there was general agreement that bin Laden’s death represents a huge setback for Al-Qaeda because he was such a mythical figure.
The death of bin Laden will also cast a new complexion on the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, where 100,000 troops are still in the country battling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after a decade of war.
As for President Obama, the news may go a long way toward bolstering his prospects for a second term as president of the United States. Presidential elections will be held in November 2012. But Americans typically vote on pocketbook issues, and not on foreign affairs. If the US economy continues to perform anemically, and if the unemployment rate stays high in 2012, Mr. Obama’s reelection may not be such a sure thing, after all.
(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached at: email@example.com. Abeer Tayel of Al Arabiya can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Nadia Idriss Mayen, also of Al Arabiya, can be reached at: Nadia.email@example.com)