Osama bin Laden is dead. On Friday night President Obama personally gave the order to send in a small U.S. team by helicopter to a compound in a wealthy suburb in Abbottabad, 100km (62 miles) north-east of Islamabad. The team went in on Sunday and American operatives killed Osama bin Laden, his adult son and three others, including a woman used as a human shield during the firefight. His body has now been buried at sea by the Americans.
Pakistani officials were not told beforehand about the operation, which took less than 40 minutes. According to some sources an American helicopter that malfunctioned had to be destroyed, but no Americans were harmed in what was described as a high-risk raid.
"In the end it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that ensured the success of this operation," a senior intelligence official said, referring to the team that went in.
U.S. intelligence officials concluded Bin Laden and his family members were living at the high-walled compound after they identified its owners as a courier and his brother they knew were Bin Laden confidantes, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They found the property in August, and the CIA soon realized a high-value terrorist was being hidden there. Over months, analysts came to conclude that it might be Bin Laden.
The property was valued at $1 million with extraordinary security features, a senior intelligence official said. Its 12- and 18-foot walls were topped with barbed wire. Internal walls provided extra security. It had no Internet or telephone connection. And its resident burned trash rather than dumping it.
It was officials said, exactly the kind of place that would harbor Bin Laden. In fact, they said, the U.S believed the compound was built precisely for that purpose five years ago, although it remains unknown when exactly Bin Laden and his family arrived there.
The US has put its embassies around the world on alert, warning Americans of the possibility of al-Qaeda reprisal attacks for Bin Laden's killing.
Crowds gathered outside the White House in Washington DC, chanting "USA, USA" after the news emerged.
Intelligence officials said they believed the death of Bin Laden was "the most significant achievement to date" in the war against Al Qaeda and that his death will put the organization on a "path to decline that will be difficult to reverse."
Despite the success of this raid, it raises some disturbing questions for Pakistan. The fact that Bib Laden could shelter only 10 kilometres from a high security military base and that he obviously had assistance in purchasing the compound raises issues about the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service. Relations between the ISI and the Americans has been strained for years and it is expected this will deteriorate. The fact that this was an American attack deep inside Pakistan is also likely to raise tensions.
The news of Osama bin Laden's death has been welcomed in Morocco, although most reaction is muted as possible retaliation is considered a possibility.
"With Al Qaeda marginalized by the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, the risk of Mr. Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted fugitive, becoming a martyr capable of inspiring jihadists across the globe in death as much as he did while alive has been substantially diminished." - Al Arabiya News
For the United States, Mr. Bin Laden’s death may not constitute an end to the struggle against terrorism. It does, however, provide an opportunity for closure on the traumatic September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington—the first time foreign forces had successfully hit targets on American soil. His death also boosts US military and intelligence credibility at a time that US forces are struggling to gain the upper hand in Afghanistan and the US and its allies are increasingly locked into a protracted battle in Libya.
'This is the beginning of the end of al-Qaida', said one Fez resident. Others were more cautious, saying that the fact the killing was done by Americans could cause a backlash. "It is a pity that the Pakistani government did not do this thing." The fact that Osama's body, which the Americans have, was treat according to Islamic tradition was seen as sensible. However, the rapid burial at sea is also questioned as to whether it is within Islamic tradition. The idea behind the sea burial had obviously been thought out in advance in order to avoid the creation of a shrine for bin Laden's followers.
The Moroccan government was not briefed by the Americans before the raid in Pakistan and have so far made no comment. It is expected that, given the tragic bombing in Marrakech, they will also welcome the news.
Overall the feelings of relief are mixed with apprehension as people feel that al-Qaida has long outgrown its leader. "There are many different al-Qaida groups and cutting off the head of one may spawn others," said Hamid, a stall holder in Fez. "The fight will go on until we convince these ignorant people that their actions are not Islam and are hurting Islam's children'.