Tuesday, May 03, 2011

World reacts to death of bin Laden

The news of Osama bin Laden having been killed by US forces late Sunday was greeted with enthusiastic displays of celebration in cities across America. Hundreds turned out in Washington DC and New York as news spread. Crowds joined together in singing the national anthem amidst cheers of "USA, USA, USA" and "We are the Champions". Around the world too, leaders came together to congratulate the United States in taking out the al-Qaeda leader.

Voices of support

The British prime minister David Cameron was one of the first to make a statement, saying the killing would be welcomed by the whole world. "The news that Osama bin Laden is dead will bring great relief to people across the world," Cameron said, as London woke up to the news. "Osama bin Laden was responsible for the worst terrorist atrocities the world has seen - for 9/11 and for so many attacks, which have cost thousands of lives, many of them British."

"It is a great success that he has been found and will no longer be able to pursue his campaign of global terror," Cameron said.

But despite the success, the prime minister said the world needed to remain vigilant, and that those who died in terror attacks should not be forgotten. "This is a time to remember all those murdered by Osama bin Laden, and all those who lost loved ones. It is also a time too to thank all those who work round the clock to keep us safe from terrorism. Their work will continue. I congratulate President Obama and those responsible for carrying out this operation."

In France, political leaders, editorial writers and terrorism experts were also quick to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden. President Nicolas Sarkozy praised the "tenacity" of the US in tracking the al-Qaeda leader and described his death as "a major blow to international terrorism".

In a communique, Sarkozy said, "Osama bin Laden promoted an ideology of hate and headed a terrorist organisation which claimed thousands of victims around the world, especially in Muslim countries. Those victims received justice today and France has thoughts for them and their families." However, Sarkozy warned that the world should not become complacent with this latest victory in the war on terror. "The death of [Osama] bin Laden will not spell the end of al-Qaeda," he said, and added that "the fight against these criminals must continue and the states who are their targets must unite to fight them."

Speaking outside a court in Milan, the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi described the news as "a great result for the fight against evil, against terrorism and a great result for the United States and all democracies."

"A killing is always a killing but when one thinks about the role bin Laden had in the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers, I think this is something everyone hoped for and therefore there are grounds to be really satisfied. The world had been waiting for this for 10 years."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero spoke out calling the killing of America's most wanted terrorist a "decisive" step in the fight against al-Qaeda and reiterated Spain's continued commitment in the effort to fight against terrorism.

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard congratulated Barack Obama on a successful operation but said the fight against terrorism would not stop. "Our fight against terrorism does not end with bin Laden's death. We must remain vigilant against the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the groups it has inspired," Gillard said. "We will continue our support for the counter-terrorism efforts of the US and our partners, and we will continue our efforts in Afghanistan to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism."

Mute responses

Some countries were less vocal following the announcement of the death of al-Qaeda's number one. China was somewhat mute as news filtered through. The English news channel of the state-run CCTV gave extensive coverage to the incident, though CCTV-4, the Chinese language channel only provided brief reports on the hour. However, by the end of the day Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu did finally release a statement in response to journalists' questions.

"China has taken note of the announcement," Jiang said, "We believe the death of Osama bin Laden is a milestone and a positive development for the international anti-terrorism efforts."

"Terrorism is the common enemy of the international community. China has also been a victim of terrorism," she said. The spokeswoman called for greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism and that it was "necessary to seek both a temporary solution and a permanent cure in fighting terrorism and to make great efforts to eliminate the soil on which terrorism relies to breed." [BBC / China Daily]

In an earlier speech to the American nation and viewers around the world, President Barack Obama said that "Justice has been done" but that the fight would go on. "The cause of securing our country is not complete," he said. [Speech in full: BBC]

Praise for a terrorist

While there was general praise and voices of congratulation, there were some who saw the death of Osama bin Laden as a loss. In China, microblogs were full of comments describing the al-Qaeda leader as a hero.

Rumours of Osama bin Laden's death began to spread on Sina Weibo, China's most active microblogging service, around an hour before President Obama's speech. The news was greeted with messages of shock and disbelief, but later mixed with expressions of regret at bin Laden's passing.

"Deeply mourning Bin Laden," wrote one Weibo user Jiajia Nuwu in comments echoed widely across the site. "Yet another anti-American hero is lost."

There was back-handed praise too. "Is this real? Excellent!" wrote another. "Now the only terrorist left is the United States!"

It is difficult to assess how widespread such sentiments are in Chinese society. The Chinese blogosphere provides an outlet for so-called "angry youth," whose online ranting at the US is sometimes assumed to be a proxy for a rebellion against domestic authority.

It is less risky to lash out against foreigners than Chinese officials, but there were some posts airing their support for the operation. "Thank you America for helping us," wrote user Zhaoling Tongzi, noting Beijing's assertion that that the al-Qaeda leader had supported a Muslim separatist movement in Xinjiang. "He wasn't a friend. He was an enemy."

Most dissenting views tended to be posted on Twitter, which is blocked in China, but which is used by some tech-savvy youths. "Some countries use 10 years in pursuit of justice while others need 100 years just to discover the definition of justice," Isaac Mao, often described as China's first blogger, wrote on his Twitter feed in a veiled reference to Beijing's unwillingness to admit its past political mistakes.

In another oblique reference to Chinese politics, a number of Chinese Twitter users passed around a message reading, "Of the ten most evil people in the world, the US has killed one. Now there are nine left." This appeared to be a reference to the Chinese Communist Party's ruling Politburo Standing Committee of which there are nine members.

There were calls for the title of the number one terrorist now be given to Fang Binxing, a widely reviled "father" of China's Great Firewall which is used to impose strict censorship on the Internet.

It is difficult to assess the true nature of views amongst the Chinese population. The very fact that Chinese microblogging comments are strictly monitored and vetted can give a skewed impression of attitudes held.

However, it is well documented that more than a few people cheered the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center [WSJ / China Smack].

Across the Islamic world there were mixed feelings. Many countries came out in support of the operation and welcomed the news of Osama bin Laden's demise. In Saudi Arabia an unnamed official said it was hoped "the elimination of the leader of the terrorist al-Qaeda organisation will be a step towards supporting international efforts aimed at combating terrorism and dismantling its cells." The Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said "getting rid of Bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide". However Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas administration in Gaza Strip, condemned what it called "the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior."

"We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood," the Hamas leader said.

Iran did come out directly condemning the attack but said Osama's death left the US without any reason to meddle in Middle East affairs. "US and their allies have no more excuse to deploy forces in the Middle East under [the] pretext of fighting terrorism," Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast said.

Across jihadist websites there has been increased chatter and calls for retaliation. "We won't cry today, but we will revenge. Men and women in America will cry," one comment posted on one website said [CNN].

Continued threat

While the killing of Osama bin Laden marks a clear victory and a landmark in history, the threat posed by al-Qaeda and terrorism persists.

There will be many al-Qaeda supporters who will seek retribution of their leader. In fact there have been suggestions that an attack may already be imminent.

The Daily Telegraph reported only a week before that al-Qaeda may already have a nuclear device in their possession. According to the paper a senior al-Qaeda commander claimed that the terrorist group has hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which would be set off if bin Laden was ever caught or assassinated. The revelations come from documents released by the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks. In the papers it is claimed the US authorities had uncovered numerous attempts by al-Qaeda to obtain nuclear materials and that they feared terrorists had already bought uranium. Acording to the report, Sheikh Mohammed told interrogators that al-Qaeda would unleash a "nuclear hellstorm".

Such claims could be considered bravado, but experts do agree that although the head of the snake may have been severed, the threat from al-Qaeda remains. In fact analysts say revenge is more than likely [Time].

Twitter and social networking

The attack on Osama bin Laden's hideout prompted a massive response on the web. One Twitter use in Abbottabad unwittingly became the first to report on the attacks after posting a comment about unusual helicopter activity near to his home. The 33-year-old Sohaib Athar, who goes by the Twitter name @ReallyVirtual, posted what is widely being seen as the first web-based response to the raids. "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," he said. As a loud blast shook his windows, he wrote that he hoped "its not the start of something nasty." [MSNBC]

Within hours the world knew what had happened, and the tweets, retweets and blogs began appearing. Posts ranged from jubilant celebrations to the sarcastic, irreverent and just plain bizarre [CNN], and Twitter was saturated with comments coming at a rate of 5,106 tweets per second at some points, only surpassed by the recent March 11 earthquake in Japan and new year tweets as Japan welcomed in 2011 [LA Times].

The timeline of events

Next Media Animation soon posted an animation said to depict the events of Sunday though their 'report' could be considered somewhat laughable.

Details of what actually occurred in the Pakistan town some 50 km north of the capital Islamabad were initially sketchy. But over the hours following the presidential announcement the media was gradually updated. Media organisations went to great lengths to provide an insight as to what happened, using interactive maps, pictures and diagrams.

The BBC described the events in great detail with graphics and video on its website. CNN also gave a comprehensive round-up on its webpage, backed up with many video reports,  though did not give maps or diagrams.

Some papers helped in providing links to Google Maps, and soon many people had created labels which enabled anyone searching "Osama bin Laden's compound Pakistan" to easily find the terror leaders former home [LA Times].

The compound, which has been described as a mansion, is around six times larger than neighbouring homes with walls as high as 3 metres, topped with barbed wire. It reportedly had no telephone or Internet connections, a detail which reportedly created greater suspicion amongst investigators.

As the raid came a helicopter approached the compound with troops moving in on the ground. Operation Geronimo, began at around 01:00 Pakistan Standard Time (May 1, 20:00 UTC, 16:00 EDT/13:00 PDT). Osama bin Laden was shot and killed in an exchange of fire at the start of the 40-minute operation.

The operation was carried out by members of the United States Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), colloquially referred to as SEAL Team Six, under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command, in conjunction with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives. The team was sent across the border of Afghanistan to launch the attack.

According to reports Osama bin Laden was shot twice, once in the head, and once in the chest, during "the last five or 10 minutes" of the raid. Three other men present at the compound were also reportedly killed in the operation, including bin Laden's adult son, the courier and the courier's brother. The New York Times reported Osama's son as being  Hamza bin Laden, however The Associated Press cited John O. Brennan as giving the man's identity as Khaled bin Laden. Also killed was a woman, Amal al Ahmed Sadah, reportedly bin Laden's fourth wife which the Daily Mirror asserted was being used as a human shield by bin Laden himself.

There are conflicting reports on how many others were at the compound. The National Journal reported that 22 people were counted in the compound. However, a US official told the Associated Press that in addition to the five adults who were killed during the operation, 23 children and nine women were in the compound. The children and women were turned over to Pakistani authorities AP said. But according to the Daily Mail, "four children and two women, including Bin Laden's daughter Safia, were taken away in an ambulance."

Following his death, Osama's body was taken by US troops and subsequently identified using DNA matching. He was buried in the Arabian sea, partly due to logistical problems of where he might be buried and also to prevent a burial site from becoming a focus of attention or "terrorist shrine".

The burial has already created controversy. Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University, said the sea burial prevented bin Laden's resting place from becoming a focus for discontent. "Shrines are very powerful," he said. "Shrines of controversial figures in Muslim history become centers to attract the angry, the disenchanted. The shrine bestows powers of religious charisma. If they allowed Osama bin Laden to be buried in Pakistan, his followers would show up, plant flowers, and women will say the shrine has healing powers, especially among the uneducated. His myth would continue to grow."

However, Professor Ahmed said, the secretive burial at sea may also give rise to anger and speculation about whether bin Laden was really dead. "You really want to see him. When something like this is done under cover of dark, it leaves a lot of people asking questions."

In fact the conspiracy theories over whether bin Laden is really dead have already surfaced [Infowars].

Wikipedia: Osama bin LadenDeath of Osama bin Laden

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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