By Novar Caine
Warnings were issued soon after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan was announced that terrorists would seek to strike at Western targets in retaliation. The elimination of the unarmed Al-Qaeda chief – shot in the head during a covert US operation on Sunday – will not erase the terrorist threat.
Still, for a President Obama cranking up his re-election machine, the killing of the great US nemesis, something his predecessor George W. (get him “dead or alive”) frustratingly could not manage, represents an almighty PR coup.
Intelligence analysts were taken aback at bin Laden’s location, holed up in a million-dollar villa in the military city of Abbottabad, about an hour’s drive from the capital Islamabad, because it had long been believed the alleged 9/11 designer with a US$25-million bounty on his head was in remote tribal areas of the country. In March an Indonesian militant, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad. He was wanted in connection with the 2002 bombings in Bali which killed 202 people, and in which it’s suspected he played a pivotal role – that of field commander in scouting out the nightclub targets.
The world’s most wanted man, bin Laden, 54, was the Al-Qaeda distillation point whose post 9/11 videos condemning Western powers and their allies and vowing continued spectacular attacks turned him into a global arch-villain firmly meshed into popular-culture iconic status. He was famous for being infamous. And as is possibly the case with Patek, 40, his Western-taunting demeanour and war-ready image were a recruiting magnet for radicals everywhere.
American covert forces controversially buried the Saudi billionaire at sea just hours after they shot him, a watery end for a man who sought to take on the world in the name of Islam, however bastardised. President Obama feared the site of a land burial would be turned into a shrine of martyrdom. How much better, and satisfying, it would have been to have taken the terror leader alive. Indeed, the cold-blooded slaying of bin Laden was itself unethical: Leaders around the world were quick to declare his killing “justice,” even though there were no elements of jurisprudence involved. However, it is done.
And now the world waits for forecasted revenge attacks by those loyal to bin Laden. A WikiLeaks document released last month and published by a British newspaper warned that acolytes would detonate a nuclear bomb stashed somewhere in Europe should their leader be captured or killed. In Bali, Governor I Made Mangku Pastika cautioned that “Osama’s followers will not stay silent.”
“They’re certainly moving and Indonesia will become an easy target, especially Bali, because there are close links between Osama bin Laden and the Bali bombings,” the island’s former police chief said.
Embattled Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked this week for the world’s help in battling terrorism (while hitting out at the entire world for the intelligence “failure” on bin Laden, who was in his back yard all along), in which every nation had a stake. He said: “We are fighting and paying a heavy price to combat terrorism and extremism… fighting not only for Pakistan but for the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world.”
The days ahead will be jittery – five camera-carrying men of Bangladeshi origin were arrested near a British nuclear plant earlier this week – and filled with false threats and hoaxes and disruption. With every major metropolis on alert, terror agents will find it hard to enact dreamed-up plots. But even the most well-guarded facilities, from hotels to shopping malls and places of recreation, have weaknesses and a determined operative can still slip in.
Announcing Osama’s end on Sunday, President Obama said a massive blow had been dealt to Al-Qaeda, but the war against the terror group was far from over. He said Osama’s death “does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must – and we will – remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
And so we must.