May 2, 2011: Osama Bin Laden Killed


On May 2, 2011, the founder and first leader of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. Navy Seals. The operation to kill bin Laden was a coordinated effort with the CIA titled Operation Neptune Spear. The U.S. had been searching for bin Laden for nearly 10 years following the September 11 attacks.

He was found in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After the raid, U.S. forces brought his body back to Afghanistan, where the raid was launched, for identification. He was buried at sea, in accordance with Islamic tradition (though this is a contentious point).

His death was confirmed on May 6 by Al-Queda, who promised to avenge his death. Additional extremist groups vowed revenge against the U.S., and against Pakistan for not stopping the operation. Though the operation was supported by 90% of Americans, the United Nations, NATO and the European Union (among many other governments), the majority of the Pakistani public did not support it.

The killing itself was questioned by people who had supported the operation due to legal and ethical concerns, such as not taking him alive despite not being armed. Another controversial aspect was not releasing any evidence of his death to the public.


Osama bin Laden was born either in 1957 or 1958 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was the 17th of 52 (!!!!) children born to Mohammed bin Laden, a bigwig construction owner in the Saudi kingdom. He was privileged growing up. Though many of his siblings, after their education, went to work for their father's significantly growing company, bin Laden stayed home. He got his education, married young, and joined the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Islam, to him, was beyond a religion, but a way of life. His beliefs influenced every decision he made. In the late 1970s while in college, he became a follower of Abdullah Azzam, a radical pan-Islamist scholar. He believed that Muslims should rise up in "jihad" or "holy war" to create a single Islamist state. A young, impressionable bin Laden was into it: he was seeing Western influence more and and more in his Middle Eastern life and was growing to resent it.

He was taken under Azzam's wing. In 1979, when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, the two traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, to join the resistance. Though they didn't fight, they used the connections they had built up to obtain financial and moral support from the Afghan rebels, and began recruiting men from all over the Middle East to join them. At the time, their organization was called the Maktab al-Khidamat, with offices all around the world, including Brooklyn, New York and Tuscon, Arizona.

In 1988, bin Laden wanted to create a group that focused more on symbolic acts of terrorism instead of just military campaigns. That group was called Al Qaeda. He went to Saudi Arabia with hopes of fundraising for his mission, but the pro-Western royal family was worried that his rhetoric may cause panic in the kingdom, so they tried to keep him quiet. His passport was taken, and they sought help from the U.S. He was enraged, and vowed that Al Qaeda, NOT America, would be the masters of the world.

He left Saudi Arabia for Sudan, a more militantly Islamist nation. They prepared for a year, and attacked for the first time: A hotel bomb in Yemen that housed American troops on a peacekeeping mission to Somalia. (2 Austrian tourists died in the blast, but no Americans.)

Feeling like their first attack went well, bin Laden and his associates embraced the violent world of terrorism in the name of their religion. They were emboldened. They trained the Somali rebels who killed 18 American servicemen in Mogadishu in 1993. They were linked to a 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attempted assassination of an Egyptian president in 1995, the bombing of the U.S. National Guard training center, and a truck bomb housing American military members in 1996. He was quickly becoming one of the biggest threats to the safety of the world.

In 1996, bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan to recruit even more people and evade arrest. The attacks continued, stronger than ever. 213 people were injured in a 1998 bomb at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and 11 were killed in a simultaneous bomb in the U.S. embassy in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. 17 sailors were killed in a 2000 bombing of an American naval destroyer off the coast of Yemen. Al Qeada took credit for all of the attacks.

While a grand jury in the U.S. had indicted bin Laden on charges for the embassy bombings, he was in Afghanistan planning their biggest attack of all: The September 11, 2001 attacks.

But even after the World Trade Centers were destroyed, killing nearly people on American soil, bin Laden continued to evade arrest. The "global war on terror" was not enough to catch him. He remained in hiding for 10 years. That did not stop him from issuing taunts over radio and television, recruiting new jihadists and plotting new attacks.


Authorities searched in vain for his hiding place for years. Around 2007, they had a small breakthrough: U.S. intelligence officials found the name of one of bin Laden's closest couriers, and they figured he may have been involved in hiding him.

It took more than 3 years to link that courier to a location: a highly secure compound in Abbottabad. Because the compound had "unusual and extensive" security, authorities suspected that may be where the terrorist-at-large was hiding.

Without 100% confirmation that the compound was where bin Laden was, but enough to plan for it, President Barack Obama authorized SEAL Team Six to raid the compound on April 29, 2011. The team had been intensely training - their training included raiding a life-sized replica of the compound.

(It is at this point I want to let you know that the attack took place on May 2, 2011 in Pakistan, but it was only May 1 in the U.S. Typically, I would use U.S. time, but already had a story for May 1 so it is what it is.)

In the early morning hours of May 2, the mission officially started. Stealth Black Hawk helicopters left from Afghanistan with 25 Navy SEALs in tow. Despite one helicopter crashing during the lading at the compound, the mission went on as planned.

The SEALs located Osama bin Laden on the third floor of the compound. Thank God, the compound they built a literal replica of was the right one. They did not speak, they did not negotiate. He was immediately shot in the head.

During the raid, 4 other people, including one of his sons, were killed. Mere minutes after bin Laden was confirmed dead, Obama received word that the mission was a success.

His body was moved to the first floor and put into a body bag. They raided the compound further for any items that may be useful to other investigations. They got back into their helicopters and returned to Afghanistan to make a positive identification of the body. From landing at the compound to arriving back in Afghanistan took only 2 and a half hours. Bin Laden was killed within 9 minutes of the landing.

In the following hours, President Obama addressed the nation about the successful raid, and DNA confirmed that the body was that of Osama bin Laden. His body was buried at sea within 24 hours of his death.


Unconfirmed news of bin Laden's death spread before the official statement was made. Even so, large crowds gathered in many significant places, including the White House, Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Times Square. During Obama's speech to officially announce his death, from the beginning to the end, 5,000 tweets were tweeted per second. It was the biggest imaginable news.

"USA" cheers began as news filtered through a big baseball game. At a wrestling event, John Cena announced that bin Laden had been killed, prompting further cheers.

But reactions weren't all USA chants and candlelight vigils for those who died at the hands of Al-Queda. Some were political, like the demand that Western forces pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Palestinian leaders were happy about his death, while the head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip felt it was an assassination of the holy war.

Even though the raid was supported by over 90% of the public, a poll taken after his death showed that only 16% of Americans felt safer, whereas 60% of Americans felt that the threat of terrorism against the U.S. in the short term was likely greater.

The handling of his body was criticized by several prominent Islamic clerics who said that under Islamic tradition, a sea burial is inappropriate when other forms of burial are available. First of all, and sure, I'm willing to go on the record with this: I don't think your religious traditions need to be taken into account when you used that religion to justify the mass murder of thousands of innocent people around the world.

But beyond that, there were reasons for the sea burial. Burying the body of a prominent extremist leader at sea means there is no identified site that could become a "terrorist shrine" of sorts. This was criticized as well, as apparently, creating shrines out of grave sites is strongly discouraged. Additionally, if Americans didn't want a shrine to be made, he could have been left in an unmarked grave, his head pointing to Islam's holy city of Mecca as is Islam tradition, with nothing to make a shrine out of. (Again, I think the mass murder of thousands of people is strongly discouraged by most religions. If his followers didn't listen to that, I have a tough time believing that they would be uncomfortable making a shrine.)

There was also the issue that no country wanted to accept his body on their soil. In Islamic tradition, bodies are to be buried at sea if no one is there to receive the body and to provide a Muslim burial, but many think it is incorrect that nobody would have received his body. His son made a statement that the sea burial denied their family a proper sendoff.

Ultimately, it comes down to this. Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai's grand mufti, said: "They can say they buried him at sea, but they cannot say they did it according to Islam." Perhaps they thought it was the correct Islamic tradition, or perhaps they didn't care about where his remains were put, but it seems that it was decidedly not Islam tradition to bury him at sea.

But overall, the raid was considered a success by most experts. The SEALs had gone in as planned and killed their target with no struggle. The world may or may not have become safer, but one less terrible person exists because of it.

I was only 5 when the 9/11 attacks took place, and I have no memory of it at all. Because I was a young kid, my parents shielded me from it. I know my parents were terrified and watched the 24/7 news coverage, but they must have put on happy faces in between horrified tears to keep us from suspecting anything. My sisters and I were 7, 5, and 3, and my parents were grappling with the fact that there were people who were willing to kill 3,000 innocent people in the world they were raising us in.

Terrorism is still a threat today. I remember threats and widespread fear from ISIS more than Al-Qeuda and it is really scary to think that one extremist group can go away just for another one to come back just as strong, and just as vengeful.

I don't know how much Osama bin Laden's death did to stunt terrorism, or if it even did. But I know many American citizens, and many other innocent people from around the world, died because of him. And even if it was small, his death may have brought just an ounce of closure to the families and loved ones of his victims.





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