The killing of Osama bin Laden this week will come as a relief to some of the many families of those who lost loved ones in terrorist atrocities from New York to London, Madrid to Bali. It will not bring them back. While some may see a sense of “justice” in bin Laden’s demise, that, finally, the terrormonger has been brought down, others have moved on with their lives, with some even finding it within themselves to forgive the man.
US President Barack Obama, whose crack SEAL troops assassinated the Al-Qaeda leader in a daring raid in Pakistan on Sunday, said that with bin Laden’s death, “justice has been done.” But the act is little more than symbolic, and we hope it is not a Pyrrhic victory for the West and its allies as they battle Islamist terrorism almost a decade on from the hijacked-airliner attacks on the US in September 2001.
That bin Laden was apparently ensconced for a number of years in a comfortable house near to Islamabad, having fled neighbouring Afghanistan, and that he appeared to have little in the way of communications – no telephone or internet, for instance – suggests he had taken a back seat in his terror plotting. Although it is believed he still got his messages out, by way of couriers, he cannot be said to have played an overly active role in Al-Qaeda’s leadership in recent years.
Al-Qaeda-linked operatives wrought terror and destruction on this island, in 2002 and again in 2005. They stuck at places where mostly Western people were gathered and slaughtered over 200 of them. That there have been no further attacks since then is testament to the Indonesian authorities’ tireless efforts, working with counterparts in Australia and the United States. But it is also an indication that confirms intelligence analysts’ assumptions that the terrorists went too far with their attacks in Bali – and later in Jakarta – which killed Muslim Indonesians. It was thought tactics had been changed to instead target Western infrastructure and other assets.
Sprawling terrorist groups hatched from the writhing Al-Qaeda nest – Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Al-Qaeda in Aceh; and a growing list of other affiliates worldwide – are a largely unseen army, a shadowy network whose members may well be perceived by residential neighbours as decent, ordinary people. Their hatred against Western ways of life and perceived imperialism in Muslim lands will persist, in an age-old battle between civilisations.
But for those still mourning the victims of their depraved attacks, there at least now is a semblance of comfort, as psychological as it may be.