World Reaction to Bin Laden Death Ranges From Caution to Glee

Reaction to Sunday’s news of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden’s death was swift and celebratory in the United States, but more restrained in other places, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and some parts of the Arab world, in recognition of security concerns and the need to carry on the fight against terrorism.

President Obama announced Sunday that bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Administration officials said DNA testing offered a “99.9 percent” certainty of bin Laden’s identity, along with CIA photo analysis and confirmation of his physical traits at the scene, reported The Associated Press. The FBI updated its Ten Most Wanted list with a red “Deceased” label under bin Laden’s photo.

At the White House and at Ground Zero in New York City, excited crowds held signs saying “Osama bin gotten” and “Obama 1, Osama 0.” They chanted “U-S-A”, waved American flags and lit candles in an impromptu vigil at the World Trade Center site.

Leaders in some corners of the world hailed the action. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the operation “a resounding triumph for justice, freedom and the values shared by all democratic nations fighting shoulder to shoulder in determination against terrorism.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who faced an election challenge Monday, said he greeted the news of bin Laden’s death with “sober satisfaction,” but cautioned that “Sadly, others will take his place.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed cautious optimism: “This news will be welcomed right across our country,” he said, reported GlobalPost. “Of course, it does not mark the end of the threat we face from extremist terrorism. Indeed, we will have to be particularly vigilant in the weeks ahead.”

In bin Laden’s birthplace, Saudi Arabia, reaction was even more understated. The state news agency said, “An official source expressed the hope of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the elimination of the leader of the terrorist al-Qaida organization would be a step toward supporting international efforts aimed at fighting terrorism.”

One blogger in Saudi Arabia explained that many young people recognize change can come from peaceful protests, rather than al-Qaida-style attacks, based on the recent successful revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, reports NPR.

The Embassy of Yemen, which is dealing with its own political turmoil, issued a brief statement from Washington, D.C., saying the operation marked a “monumental milestone in the ongoing global war against terrorism.”


Afghans watch television coverage announcing the killing of bin Laden. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said the discovery of bin Laden in Pakistan proved what he knew all along: “For years we have said that the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses. It is in safe havens, and today that was shown to be true.”

Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Kabul, said many in Afghanistan felt relief that bin Laden was nabbed in a hiding place in Pakistan.

“Everyone from officials to Afghans on the street has been saying for years that the center of terrorism is across the border, not here: ‘we don’t understand why we are being attacked when bin Laden has not been in Afghanistan since 2001.’ I think there’s also a little bit of evil glee, if you will, that Pakistan has been shown to be either complicit in harboring Osama bin Laden or largely incompetent in not being able to uncover his whereabouts for the past five years in the center of a city,” she told us by phone.

The Taliban has taken some pains to distance itself from al-Qaida, but smaller splinter groups like the Haqqani network, a group of Afghan militants active in Kabul, already have taken credit for large-scale attacks in the city and could retaliate for the siege in Pakistan, MacKenzie said.

In the past few days, the Taliban has launched its own springtime offensive putting international organizations in lockdown, she added, and the killing of bin Laden just ratchets up the tensions.


Pakistani man reads newspaper about bin Laden’s death (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, response among the Pakistani population was generally muted, with few if any protests, said Kamal Siddiqi, editor of the Tribune Express in Karachi, possibly because the operation did not involve U.S. drone attacks, which have become a controversial method of targeting fighters in Pakistan. “We’ve not seen that kind of anger here. It’s been muted and people are still shocked over what’s happened, but at the same time are not reacting violently to it,” he said.

And even though Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said he appreciated President Obama’s acknowledgement of Pakistan’s cooperation in finding bin Laden, the government appeared to distance itself from the actual raid itself, possibly to avoid retaliation from al-Qaida supporters, said Siddiqi.

Gilani also warned against putting any spin on the matter, which could touch off extremists’ anger, said Mehmal Sarfraz, an opinion page editor for the Daily Times, based in Lahore, Pakistan. But besides the views of right-wing and more militant-minded Pakistanis, the general public has grown to despise al-Qaida because of the attacks on Pakistani citizens, she said. “They have become victims themselves and can empathize with 9/11 victims and those in the Mumbai siege.”

The question, the Pakistani journalists and analysts say, is whether the loss of bin Laden will have a demoralizing effect on the al-Qaida terror network. There’s a mixture of opinions, according to Siddiqi: Some say bin Laden wasn’t part of the planning and activity and other militant organizations have come to the forefront of attacks, but others say he was the person under whom everyone identified as the man leading the cause. So his departure might lead to infighting among the various groups.

Bin Laden, although not very active in al-Qaida since growing old and ill, and in hiding, had become a symbol of respect for the jihadists, said Sarfraz. “By killing Osama bin Laden, the jihadists have lost their hero.”

But with bin Laden dead, it doesn’t mean that the war on terror is over or that al-Qaida has become weak, she continued. “They’ve killed a leader who was for the past few years just a leader in namesake; he wasn’t doing any actual work.” But the war on terror is far from over, she said. “Al-Qaida will not stop.”

Tune into Monday’s NewsHour for more on the military operation, a report from Abbottabad, and analysis of what comes next. View all of our bin Laden coverage and follow us on Twitter.

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