May 2, 2011

Daily brief: Osama bin Laden is dead

From The AfPak Channel by Katherine Tiedemann -


"Justice has been done"


Yesterday in Abbottabad, around 40 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and close to Pakistan's Kakul Military Academy, four U.S. helicopters dropped a Navy SEAL strike team operating under the authority of the C.I.A. that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who reportedly resisted before being shot in the head (NYT, WSJ, Post, AP, LAT, CNN, Guardian, ABC, ET, BBC, NYT, Tel, Pajhwok, FT). Also said to be killed in the 40-minute firefight were two couriers, one of bin Laden's sons, and a woman who was used as a shield by a man in the compound. Watch U.S. president Barack Obama's announcement of the news last night, and read the transcript of a White House briefing call afterwards (WH, WH).

The operation that led to bin Laden's death reportedly centered around one courier who was long trusted by the al-Qaeda leader, thought to be a protege of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and an assistant to captured al-Qaeda number three Abu Farraj al-Libi, and had been in the works for years (NBC, NYT, ABC, ABC, WH). U.S. officials said the compound in Abbottabad was roughly 8 times larger than other homes in the area, was valued at $1 million, has 12- to 18-foot walls topped by barbed wire, and had no telephone or internet service connected to it. DNA tests and facial recognition reportedly confirmed bin Laden's identity, and he was buried at sea, in keeping with Muslim customs, earlier this morning (LAT, Post, CNN, Guardian). U.S. officials reportedly sought to keep bin Laden's burial place from becoming a shrine.

Although Obama cited Pakistani assistance in the operation, Pakistan's government stressed that U.S. forces, not Pakistani soldiers, carried out the raid, apparently reflecting "concern about a possible backlash from Islamist insurgents or Pakistan's strongly anti-American public" (Post, WSJ, AFP, Reuters, Independent, AFP). Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called bin Laden's death a "great victory," and Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari held "emergency talks" with his security team following Obama's late-night announcement (Dawn, Reuters). The Times writes, "It [is] too soon to say whether Bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad reflected Pakistani complicity or incompetence," and assesses that tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan will be further inflamed (NYT).

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