US President Barack Obama has declared the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US forces.
In a live broadcast to the US on Sunday night, Obama claimed that an intelligence lead in August 2010 had culminated in the tracking of bin Laden to Abbottabad, a town north of Islamabad in Pakistan far from the tribal belt where the US has been searching for the fugitive.
“It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorised an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” Obama said.
“A small team of Americans” engaged bin Laden in a firefight, killing him. No US or civilian casualties were reported, and bin Laden’s body was recovered.
A US official told Associated Press that “We are assuring [his body] is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.”
Counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan “help lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” Obama said.
“We must also reaffirm that the United States is not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” he added. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
Crowds immediately gathered outside the gates of the White House singing the country’s national anthem, while news networks reported a “party atmosphere” spreading throughout the country.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said that confirmation of bin Laden’s death should “bring great relief to people across the world”.
“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,” the PM said.
A Western diplomat based in Islamabad told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that bin Laden’s death was a “game changer” for US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I’m overjoyed, but what this exactly means is really not clear,” the diplomat said.
A number of analysts speculated that while bin Laden’s death was a significant symbolic victory for the US, it was unlikely to hamper al Qaeda’s operations as bin Laden was no longer involved in the day-to-day functioning of the terrorist organisation.
The US State Department meanwhile issued a travel alert to all US citizens warning of an outbreak of anti-American violence in the wake of bin Laden’s death.
“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, US citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations,” the State Department said.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake, is currently in Male’ for meetings with political leaders and civil society.