More questions than credible answers

Wanted dead or alive” was the tag former US president George W. Bush placed on the head of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden as long ago as September 17, 2001.

Smoking the 1.93-metre-tall Al Qaida leader out of his cave was the Bush administration’s motive for invading and occupying Afghanistan. But following an intensive bombing campaign of the mountainous Afghan region of Tora Bora and the US military’s failure to commit enough troops to that stated mission, all that was found in Bin Laden’s network of bunkers was his coat.

They sought him here, they sought him there, but the ailing man himself had escaped on horseback to northern Afghanistan and from there to Pakistan. Apart from a few video and audio tapes, the world had heard nothing from Osama for a decade, then just when he had almost faded from the news, on Sunday, US President Barack Obama announced that Bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces.

Details of the operation are still filtering through but it’s fair to question how the Al Qaida boss went unnoticed as he lived a comfortable lifestyle with his youngest wife, a courier and his brother, and one of his sons in a luxurious high-security compound outside the summer resort of Abbottabad—a favourite retirement spot for military officers, near Islamabad. And all this time, we had been given to believe the Saudi millionaire was in a mud hut in Waziristan.

It seems incredible that this family went under the radar of Pakistan’s intelligence services for so long when it took them just weeks to track down the killers of American journalist Daniel Pearl. The fact that the house was occupied by foreigners, had no phone lines or Internet connection and all its garbage was burned should have elicited red flags with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence or the local community.

There is no doubt that this has been a real coup for Obama, especially in the run-up to presidential elections next year. Cynics might say he waited until now to spring this surprise when the US has had intelligence about Osama’s whereabouts since last August. Bush has congratulated him calling the death ‘a victory for America,’ but inside he must be seething that his successor did the job he failed to complete.

Few cheers

Joyous crowds celebrating the death may be flooding American cities as, after all, the news represents a major public relations coup for the long arm of US ‘justice,’ but there will be few cheering in the Arab world. That isn’t because Arabs approve of Bin Laden’s warped interpretation of Islam or his willingness to murder innocents in the name of his faith.

Until September 11, 2001, most in the Middle East region had never even heard of Osama or Al Qaida and some have been sceptical about his role in September 11 as well as the authenticity of a video tape released by the Pentagon in which he appears to admit culpability. What they’re seeking is hard facts and answers. It’s unfortunate that Bin Laden wasn’t taken alive to appear before a court of law; the truth has now died with him.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that Bin Laden’s body has been hurriedly disposed of; the US has chosen to bury him at sea, primarily because they didn’t want his supporters to turn his gravesite into a shrine.

At the same time, the White House was loath to crudely display his corpse on TV after the Bush administration was criticised for flaunting the bodies of Saddam Hussain’s sons. That’s understandable, but that shouldn’t have precluded allowing foreign diplomatic and medical representatives to view it and take DNA samples to quash lingering doubts.

As the world was waking up to the news Monday morning, I telephoned a few Egyptians to take their pulse on the death. Hani Salim, the manager of a bank in Alexandria, said, “That’s good news, if it’s true. But they need to show us something as the Americans told us he was once before.”

Fishmonger Mohammad Salah says he’s happy as long as the death can be proven. Civil Engineer Mohammad Juma’a was pleased. “If he created problems for the world then good riddance,” he said. Antiques expert Essam Al Ashly complained that the Americans have killed more innocents in Afghanistan and Iraq than Bin Laden ever did.

Ala’a Al Gani from Al Ahram Weekly set out his thoughts in this e-mail. “Bin Laden is not as important as he was 10 years ago. He is more a symbol for Al Qaida supporters. It is surprising that he had little to say about the Arab revolutions this year, as this is what he supposedly wanted. I don’t think his death will have much impact on Egypt, where Islamists are represented more by the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, who reject violence. There probably will be revenge attacks, maybe in Pakistan and the US.”

In my view, Bin Laden’s gruesome legacy will live on. He has spawned copycat organisations that rather than be deterred by his passing may be reinvigorated in the name of the new ‘martyr.’ The world is well rid of this death-celebrating hate-filled fanatic, but as long as the terrorist scourge continues, I won’t get out the balloons.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

2 Responses to More questions than credible answers

  1. Panem et circensis.

  2. iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
    uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
    imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
    continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
    panem et circenses

    Since long ago, from when we sold the vote to nothing,
    the People renounced their duty; the same People
    that once handled the empire, civil office, military duty and everything else,
    now anxiously awaits for just two things: bread and circuses.