WASHINGTON (BP)–American military forces killed Osama bin Laden early May 2 in Pakistan, nearly a decade after terrorist strikes he supervised resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people in the deadliest day of attacks ever against the United States on its own soil.
President Obama announced the killing of the leader of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in a late-night address May 1 to the country, saying, “Justice has been done.” He said the death of the leader of the militant Islamic organization al-Qaida “should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
After avoiding capture or killing for nearly 10 years, bin Laden, 54, died at the hands of an elite U.S. military team in a “firefight” at a heavily secured, northern Pakistani compound where he may have lived for as much as six years.
Southern Baptist ethicists agreed the killing of bin Laden was a matter of justice.
“If anyone ever deserved the forfeiture of his life for crimes against humanity, it was Osama bin Laden,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This was more of an execution than a killing.
“It has taken too long,” he told Baptist Press, “but finally those thousands of Americans who lost loved ones on 9/11 can have some measure of closure now that justice has been visited upon the mastermind behind those terrorist attacks.”
Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said the “world is rightly celebrating the passing of Osama bin Laden as a matter of justice overcoming injustice and of truth overcoming deception.”
Though Christians “should and must rejoice because in this event we see good transcending evil, we cannot and must never say we have any pleasure in the ending of a human life made in God’s eternal image,” Heimbach said in comments for BP. He added that Christians “must also, at the same time, truly regret that Osama entered eternity still perpetrating the lie he wrongly believed justified destroying so many innocent lives.”
R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in his May 2 blog the killing of bin Laden “was fully justified as an act of war” but “we should feel the loss of the greater satisfaction of human justice.” Bin Laden did not “have to answer the world about his murderous actions and plans” after the evidence against him was presented, Mohler said.
“Christians know that Osama bin Laden escaped the reach of full human justice and a trial for his crimes,” Mohler wrote, “but he will not escape the judgment that is to come. Bin Laden will not escape his trial before the court of God.”
As the only head of al-Qaida for more than two decades, bin Laden was the man most identified with the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands of Americans in airplanes and on the ground. Al-Qaida members on suicide missions took over four commercial airliners and flew two into the separate towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon. The fourth was flown into the ground in Pennsylvania amid a passenger uprising.
American-led military forces quickly took the battle to al-Qaida in Afghanistan after the 2001 attacks. They deposed the Taliban, the extremist Islamic regime that ruled the country, but failed to catch bin Laden in a pursuit that remained a priority during the intervening years.
Al-Qaida under bin Laden’s leadership also was responsible for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed about 300 people and injured another 5,000. In addition, al-Qaida took credit for the 2000 attack in Yemen on the USS Cole. That bombing took the lives of 17 U.S. sailors.
American authorities acknowledged al-Qaida and other radical Islamic organizations might seek to avenge the death of the world’s leading terrorist.
“There’s no doubt that al-Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us,” Obama said. “We must — and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said al-Qaida is not dead, though bin Laden is.
“The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must — and will — remain vigilant and resolute,” Panetta said in a written statement. “But we have struck a heavy blow against the enemy. The only leader they have ever known, whose hateful vision gave rise to their atrocities, is no more. The supposedly uncatchable one has been caught and killed. And we will not rest until every last one of them has been delivered to justice.”
The president reiterated the U.S. “is not — and never will be — at war with Islam.” Obama said bin Laden “was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims,” adding al-Qaida had “slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.”
Heimbach encouraged Christians to send the right message to Muslims.
“While the life of this one man on earth is over, the lie he perpetrated remains a powerful living force,” Heimbach said, “and I urge that Christians in American react to this news in days to come in a manner that lets the Islamic world know we long for a vision of justice in this life that embraces religious liberty. That is because the justice of religious liberty offers the only possible way of pursuing meaningful neighbor love while respecting profoundly different religious convictions.”
Mohler expressed concern about the public celebrations by Americans of bin Laden’s death.
“That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy,” Mohler said. “That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.”
He said, “[R]evenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.”
Senior White House officials said the special forces unit that killed bin Laden descended on the compound in helicopters and spent less than 40 minutes on the ground. Bin Laden resisted the Americans and was shot. Three other adult men were killed. They were believed to be a son of bin Laden and two brothers who were couriers for the al-Qaida leader and owned the home, an administration spokesman said. One woman died when she was used as a shield by bin Laden. Two other women were injured in the fight.
(The White House altered its report May 3. A spokesman said bin Laden was not armed and did not use a woman as a shield. The woman who died did so during crossfire.)
One of the helicopters was unable to leave the compound because of a mechanical failure, and it was destroyed before all the Americans left on the other helicopter. All those in the house were removed before the U.S. forces blew up the helicopter, a White House official said.
The U.S. team took bin Laden’s corpse with it to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea. His body was buried at sea with a traditional Muslim burial ceremony, a Department of Defense (DOD) official told American Forces Press Service.
CIA and Pentagon authorities expressed certainty it was bin Laden’s body. For one thing, intelligence experts “performed the initial DNA analysis matching a virtually 100-percent DNA match of the body against the DNA of several of bin Laden’s family members,” the DOD official said.
Land commended the effort of the U.S. armed forces.
“Once again, our magnificent military performed with tremendous bravery and skill,” Land said. “We should all thank God for them and that they are standing on the ramparts protecting our liberty.”
Using information provided by detainees after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. intelligence community began tracking al-Qaida couriers and focused on one in particular, an administration official said. Four years ago, they identified the courier, as well as regions in Pakistan where his brother and he were active. They located the brothers’ house in August in a compound built in 2005 in Abbottabad, about 35 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
After a tight group of administration officials worked on it for months, Obama authorized the military action April 29.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.