Osama bin Laden, the face of Islamic militancy, was killed Monday morning in an assault by U.S. special forces on his compound in Pakistan. His death ends the hunt for the man who claimed to have launched the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, which killed some 3,000 people, and a host of other atrocities.
Sadly, his demise will not mark the end of Islamic terrorism and is likely to produce a spate of retaliatory attacks. It is regrettable that this terrorist mastermind was not captured alive and was not put to trial. Following his killing, it will be unavoidable for many nations to remain vigilant.
In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden was declared “public enemy number one.” Yet even a $25 million bounty on his head could not produce information on his whereabouts. He taunted Western leaders with the periodic release of videotapes while remaining out of sight.
Rumors and informed opinion suggested he was in the no-man’s land near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but there was never any proof that he was even still alive.
By the end of his presidency, with his country fighting two land wars and “a global war on terror,” U.S. President George W. Bush declared that capturing bin Laden was “not a top priority use of American resources.”
Yet efforts to find the terrorist leader continued, fueled by pieces of information collected from a variety of sources. The first clue was the alias of a trusted courier of bin Laden. Investigators learned his name and finally, after four years of searching, located his residence — a specially constructed compound in Abbottabad, a garrison town some 65 km north of Islamabad that is home to Pakistan’s premier military academy — and a good distance from the border that was reputed to be bin Laden’s home.
After confirming that a “high value target” was in the compound, President Barack Obama ordered a team of commandos to storm the residence, which they did in a daring early morning raid on Monday.
In the 40-minute firefight, bin Laden was killed, along with one of his sons, and three other supporters, one of them a woman, reportedly a wife of bin Laden. His body was evacuated, DNA-tested to confirm that it was in fact bin Laden, and then buried at sea after a funeral held in accordance with Muslim tradition.
Mr. Obama declared the world a safer and “better place” with bin Laden dead. Bin Laden turned terrorism into a franchise. Under his “leadership,” al-Qaida became a network of terror, with similarly named units around the world, loosely connected without a defined organizational nexus.
In the 15 years since bin Laden declared war on the United States, al-Qaida was responsible for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 that resulted in the deaths of 224 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors in Yemen; it launched attacks in Indonesia as well as in London and Madrid. Many other missions failed, but not for lack of trying.
Bin Laden’s death denies the organization and his followers a symbol, but it does not end the threat. As al-Qaida became a real network, it was unlikely that he was behind or even knew in advance of many of the incidents that were done in his name. But bin Laden remained a powerful icon and his survival was a talisman for his followers.
Those acolytes are likely to mourn him with an upsurge in attacks to seek vengeance for his killing. Everyone must be increasingly alert to the possibility of violence.
But the fight against terrorists demands more than purely defensive action. Concerned nations must continue to seek active intelligence and take preventive action against terrorists and their supporters.
More must be done to identify and solve the root causes of terrorism as well; that is not to suggest that terrorism is or can be justified, but we need to be more aware of the factors that create sympathy for terrorists and do more to eliminate them.
The support for the killing of bin Laden throughout the Arab world should put to rest the notion that he was a hero to Muslims. That should come as no surprise: Bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of innocent people of all faiths and it is very likely that Muslims topped the list of his victims. He was no hero.
Among the important questions that have to be answered is whether Pakistan had a role in providing a secure hideout for bin Laden. Pakistan is a key nation in the fight against Islamic militancy.
The government in Islamabad insists it is a reliable and committed ally in this struggle, but the presence of bin Laden comfortably ensconced deep in Pakistani territory “hiding in plain sight” of the military that is fighting against him raises doubts about Pakistan’s credibility, capacity and its commitment. U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers from Islamabad and that process will increase tensions in an already fraught relationship.
For their part, Pakistani officials have complained that the raid, which occurred without Pakistan’s knowledge or participation, was a violation of national sovereignty.
The fate of Osama bin Laden is a reminder that no one can hide from the forces of justice. His end should offer some solace to the victims of his atrocities and may deter others from following in his footsteps. Most immediately, however, we are likely to see an angry surge in violence as similarly deluded individuals try to take their revenge.