Bin Laden killing brings anger, relief in Arab world

Those who revered him prayed the news was not true but many in the Arab world felt the death of Osama bin Laden was long overdue.

Some said the killing of the Saudi-born al-Qaeda founder in Pakistan was scarcely relevant any more, now that secular uprisings have begun toppling corrupt Arab autocrats who had resisted violent Islamist efforts to weaken their grip on power.

US President Barack Obama announces the death of Bin Laden:

“Oh God, please make this news not true … God curse you, Obama,” said a message on a Jihadist forum in some of the first Islamist reaction to the al-Qaeda leader’s death. Oh Americans … it is still legal for us to cut your necks.”

For some in the Middle East, Bin Laden has been seen as the only Muslim leader to take the fight against Western dominance to the heart of the enemy — in the form of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

On the streets of Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden’s native land which stripped him of his citizenship after September 11, there was a mood of disbelief and sorrow among many.

“I feel that it is a lie,” said one Saudi in Riyadh. He did not want to be named. “I don’t trust the US government or the media. They just want to be done with his story. It would be a sad thing if he really did die. I love him and in my eyes he is a hero and a jihadist.”

Officials in the country of his birth maintained near silence at the news of Bin Laden’s death. The state news agency merely noted that Washington and Pakistan had announced it.

Other Gulf Arab states also eschewed comment.

‘Harmed Islam’
Another strand of opinion believes that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda brought catastrophe on their Muslim world as the United States retaliated with two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the word “Islam” became associated with “terrorism”.

“The damage Bin Laden had caused Islam is beyond appalling and a collective shame,” said another Saudi, Mahmoud Sabbagh, on Twitter.

Another, anonymous, Saudi said: “He might have had a noble idea to elevate Islam but his implementation was wrong and caused more harm than good. I believe his death will calm people down and may dry up the wells of terrorism.”

In Yemen, Bin Laden’s ancestral home and the base for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been behind recent foiled anti-American attacks, some believed his death would cause his group to lose heart.

“Al-Qaeda is finished without Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda members will not be able to continue,” said Ali Mubarak, a Yemeni man in his 50s as he sipped tea in a cafe in Sana’a.

For many Arabs, inspired by the popular upheavals of the past few months, the news of Bin Laden’s death had less significance than it once might have.

“The death of Osama is coming at a very interesting time. The perfect time, when al-Qaeda is in eclipse and the sentiments of freedom are rising,” said Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi commentator and independent analyst.

Recalling the mass demonstrations on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, he added: “The people at Tahrir Square had shut down the ideas and concepts of Bin Laden.”

Egyptian Thanaa Al-Atroushy said: “Though I am surprised, I don’t think such news will affect anything in any way. He is a man of al-Qaeda, who are known to have weird beliefs to justify killing the innocent like those of September 11.”

Risk of retaliation
But while some hoped his death may terminate al-Qaeda, many others believe that al-Qaeda franchises across the world would continue campaigns against the United States.

“I am not happy at the news. Osama was seeking justice. He was taking revenge on the Americans and what they did to Arabs, his death to me is martyrdom, I see him a martyr,” added Egyptian Sameh Bakry, a Suez Canal employee.

Omar Bakri, a Lebanese Sunni cleric, mourned bin Laden as a martyr: “His martyrdom will give momentum to a large generation of believers and jihadists.

“Al-Qaeda is not a political party, it is a jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda does not end with the death of a leader. Bin Laden was first the generation of the Qaeda and now there is a second, third, fourth and fifth generation.”

In Iraq, ravaged by nearly a decade of violence in the battle between Bin Laden and the West, some were cautious about the circumstances in which Washington announced his death.

“This is the end of this play. The play about the character of Bin Laden that was fabricated by Americans to deform the image of Islam and Muslims,” said Ali Hussain.

“How can you can convince me that all these years American could not kill or even reach him. Americans knew Bin Laden suffered from health problems. Maybe he was approaching his death and they wanted to exploit it.”

In non-Arab Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, some ordinary people were also sceptical of Washington’s account: “Are we sure that he has been killed?” said Tehran shopkeeper Ali Asghar Sedaghat. “Or is it another game of the Americans?”

Celebrations in US
Thousands of people poured into the streets outside the White House and in New York City early on Monday, waving US flags, cheering and honking horns.

Residents found joy, comfort and closure with the death of the mastermind of the September 11 plot. For many, it was a historic, long-overdue moment.

“I never figured I’d be excited about someone’s death. It’s been a long time coming,” firefighter Michael Carroll (27) whose firefighter father died in the September 11 attacks, said in New York. “It’s finally here … it feels good.”

At Ground Zero thousands sang the US national anthem, popped champagne, drank from beer bottles and threw rolls of toilet paper into the air. Another big crowd gathered in New York’s Times Square.

“With all the gloom and doom around us, we all needed this. Evil has been ripped from the world,” said Guy Madsen (49) a salesman from Clifton, New Jersey, who drove to Lower Manhattan with his 14-year-old son.

Many in Times Square recalled the thousands of New Yorkers who perished on a clear September Tuesday almost a decade ago. Some people held pictures of loved ones who died.

‘Oh my God’
“We had to be there to celebrate with everybody else. I’m very happy with the outcome of today’s news,” said Stephen Kelley, a Gulf War veteran and former US Marine, who said he rushed to the White House after his wife told him the news.

College students, who were just children when the attacks took place, turned out in huge numbers, like Jennifer Raymond (18) wrapped in a huge US flag outside the White House.

“We were all in our dorm rooms and everyone’s Facebook was blowing up,” Raymond said. “It’s like ‘Oh my God, Osama bin Laden’s dead.’ Everyone in the dorm was screaming. Everyone decided to come to the White House.”

The celebration may well have been the biggest crowd to gather spontaneously outside the White House since Obama’s election in November 2008.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement: “New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11 2001.”

Firefighters hold a special place in New Yorkers’ memories of September 11, as hundreds died in the collapse of the Twin Towers while racing up flights of stairs to rescue trapped people on upper floors.

“This is a tremendous moment, and hopefully it will bring us together, it doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or Christian or whatever,” said Patrice McLeod, a firefighter dressed in uniform. “We’ll never give up.”

It was also a night to remember the 100 000 or so US troops deployed in Afghanistan. Elaine Coronado (51) whose brother served a year in Afghanistan, said that joining the crowd outside the White House was a way of showing her support to US military families.

Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter in the 2001 attacks and is active in the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, watched events unfold on television.

“Osama bin Laden is dead, and so is my daughter,” she told Reuters. “His death didn’t bring her back. We are not a family which celebrates death, no matter who it is.”

Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden born in Riyadh, one of more than 50 children of millionaire businessman. There are conflicting accounts of his precise date of birth.

Studies management and economics at university in Jeddah.

December 26 1979
Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. From 1984, bin Laden is involved in Peshawar-based Services Office to support Arab volunteers arriving to fight Soviet forces.

Bin Laden moves to Peshawar, begins importing arms and forms his own small brigade of volunteer fighters.

Al-Qaeda (The Base) is established as a magnet for radical Muslims seeking a more fundamentalist brand of government in their home countries and joined in common hatred of the United States, Israel and US-allied Muslim governments.

Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia and goes into exile, having opposed the kingdom’s alliance with the United States against Iraq.

June 1993
Bin Laden family moves to expel Osama as shareholder in its businesses, which focus on construction.

April 9 1994
Saudi Arabia, angered by bin Laden’s propaganda against its rulers, revokes his citizenship.

May 1996
Bin Laden is forced to leave Sudan after US pressure on its government, and goes to Afghanistan. August 1996 – Bin Laden issues a fatwa, or religious decree, that US military personnel should be killed.

October 1996
US brands bin Laden as a prime suspect in two bombings in Saudi Arabia which killed 24 US servicemen and two Indians.

August 7 1998
Truck bombs explode at US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killing 224, including 12 Americans.

August 20 1998
President Bill Clinton names bin Laden as America’s top enemy and accuses him of being responsible for the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings. US launches missile strikes against what Clinton calls terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan. One destroys a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, whose owner denies any affiliation with bin Laden.

October 12 2000
Al-Qaeda strikes at destroyer USS Cole, harboured at Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen sailors are killed.

September 11 2001
Three hijacked planes crash into major US landmarks, destroying New York’s World Trade Centre and plunging into the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane crashes in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3 000 people are killed. In a video released later, bin Laden says the collapse of the towers exceeded al-Qaeda’s expectations.

September 17 2001
US president George Bush says bin Laden is “Wanted: Dead or Alive”.

October 7 2001
United States attacks Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, host to Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

December 6 2001
Anti-Taliban forces capture Bin Laden’s main base in Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

September 10 2002
Al-Jazeera broadcasts what it says is the voice of Bin Laden praising the 9/11 hijackers as men who “changed the course of history”.

November 2002
Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for three suicide car bombs in Kenya which blew up the Mombasa Paradise resort hotel, popular with Israelis, killing 15 people and wounding 80.

October 2004
Bin Laden bursts into the US election campaign in his first videotaped message in over a year to deride Bush. January 2006 — Bin Laden’s first public message for over a year is a bid to show he is still in command of al-Qaeda.

September 2006
Bush vows “America will find you”.

September 2007
Bin Laden issues first new video for nearly three years, telling US it is vulnerable despite its power.

May 18 2008
Bin Laden urges Muslims to break the Israeli-led blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and fight Arab governments that deal with Israel.

January 24 2010
Bin Laden claims responsibility for the failed December 25 bombing of a US-bound plane in an audio tape and vows to continue attacks on the United States.

March 25 2010
Bin Laden threatens al-Qaeda will kill any Americans it takes prisoner if accused September 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, held by United States, is put to death, according to an audiotape aired on al-Jazeera.

January 21 2011
Bin Laden says in an audio recording that the release of French hostages held in Niger by al-Qaeda depends on France’s soldiers leaving Muslim lands.

May 2 2011
Osama bin Laden is killed in a million-dollar compound in the resort of Abbottabad, 60km north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday