Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the most devastating attack on American soil in modern times and the most hunted man in the world, was killed in a firefight with US forces in Pakistan on Sunday, President Obama announced. (Watch: Obama announces Osama’s death)
In a dramatic late-night appearance in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that American military and C.I.A. operatives had finally cornered Osama bin Laden. American officials said bin Laden resisted and was shot in the head. He was later buried at sea.
With the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Bin Laden was elevated to the realm of evil in the American imagination once reserved for dictators like Hitler and Stalin. “Do you want Bin Laden dead?” one reporter asked President George W. Bush six days after the Sept. 11 attacks. “I want him — I want justice,” the president answered. “And there’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ “
It took nearlyten yeras before that quest finally ended in Pakistan with the death of Bin Laden during a confrontation with American forces, who attacked a compound where officials said he had been hiding.
The confirmation of bin Laden’s death has seen Americans celebrate, with a crowd soon forming outside the White House in the wake of the news, chanting “USA! USA!” and singing the national anthem. Family members of those killed in the 9/11 attacks have publicly said their lost loved ones could now rest in peace.
Although it’s likely to be a major blow to al-Qaeda, the significance of the American triumph could incite attacks from terrorist networks across the globe. While the al-Qaeda leader’s strategic role has greatly reduced in the past decade as his network evolved into a series of autonomous groups across the world, he remained a figure of inspiration for jihadists.
John Gearson, reader in terrorism studies and director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, said al-Qaeda would remain a “major security concern”. “I think the significance of what has happened cannot really be overstated,” he said. “I would expect embassies and military bases around the world to be on high alert for some time.”
“There will be concerns that there could be some sort of retaliation, that al-Qaida may well want to demonstrate that they are still strong and still in the game.”
Professor Paul Wilkinson, chair of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, agreed that the death of bin Laden would not spell the end of al-Qaida.
He told BBC Scotland: “I think President Obama was right to caution that there was likely to be an upsurge in terrorism as a result of the killing of bin Laden and certainly there shouldn’t be any hasty winding down of the specialist services that counter terrorism in the international community.
“I think that would a great mistake because they are still recruiting large numbers of suicide bombers and they are still carrying out mass casualty attacks.”
Although the main target for revenge is likely to be the US, there are fears Britain could also be a “legitimate target” because of its special relationship with America, according to one expert.
Frank Faulkner, a senior lecturer in sociology and terrorism studies at the University of Derby, said: “Every security operation in the world will be on the highest state of alert in readiness for any kind of attack by al-Qaida. You can’t possibly estimate how it will take place or where, but there will be some sort of situation arriving at some time.”
Meanwhile a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan said al-Qaeda would already have someone in line to step into bin Laden’s shoes. He told the BBC: “I think this is not the end of al Qaeda by any means… they will try and recover, they will undoubtedly try and strike back in some form.