Even as Americans continue to celebrate the capture and killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden, officials already are bracing for possible retaliatory attacks. The State Department on Monday placed American diplomatic facilities around the world on high alert and issued a global travel warning for Americans.
“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations,” the State Department said in a worldwide travel warning issued early Monday. “U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.”
The wariness over the next step was signaled by President Obama in his announcement late Sunday night of the military operation that nabbed the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks after a decade of frustration and failure.
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“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida,” proclaimed the president. “Yet,” he quickly added, “his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al-Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must -- and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
In Gaza, Hamas protested the American action. And, with relations with Islamabad already tense, U.S. officials also were braced for the reaction from the Pakistani street.
Questions have also already been raised about the disposition of the body of the terrorist leader after reports that he was buried at sea. Bin Laden was shot in the head in the American raid. The decision to bury him at sea was made in order to prevent his gravesite from becoming a terrorist shrine, ABC News reported, citing an informed source. The report said the burial was conducted in accordance with Islamic tradition.
But the warnings of possible reprisals and attacks that may come in the future could not dampen the national excitement over the successful apprehension of a man who caused so much pain in the United States.
The news bolstered world financial markets Monday morning, and there were no signs that Americans were finished with their celebrating. Jubilant fans chanted “USA! USA!” when word spread through the stands at a baseball game in Philadelphia; others waved flags and danced into the morning outside the White House; still others visited the site of the downed Twin Towers at Ground Zero in New York, clutching framed photographs of loved ones who perished there.
The celebrations were ignited by Obama’s late-night appearance in the East Room to announce the success of an operation 10 years in the making but only minutes long in its execution by commandos from the Joint Special Operations Command to surprise and kill bin Laden in a heavily fortified compound outside Islamabad.
“Justice has been done,” said the president, providing the four words that topped the front pages of hundreds of newspapers that greeted Americans Monday morning.
Addressing the nation on the eighth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” appearance on a U.S. aircraft carrier, Obama was able to -- at last -- announce that what had been a top mission of the American military and two White Houses actually had been accomplished.
Decrying the “gaping hole in our hearts” caused by the attacks that bin Laden led and praising the “tireless” efforts of the U.S. military, Obama recounted a striking story of how the United States determined, just last week, that bin Laden was in a fortified villa in Pakistan and U.S. forces were dispatched to take him. The president said that the effort led to a brief firefight, a minimum of civilian casualties and the death of bin Laden. He was killed by commandos, U.S. officials said. “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed,” Obama said.
The announcement took Washington by surprise and gave the Obama administration an extraordinary accomplishment -- one that had eluded its Republican predecessor and one that comes just days after the president announced a new national security team composed of longtime bin Laden hunters Leon Panetta, the CIA director, and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan who are due to change jobs with Petraeus heading the CIA and Panetta becoming secretary of Defense. If the CIA was the point of the spear in killing bin Laden, it can only enhance Panetta's credibility at the Pentagon when he is expected to arrive later this spring.
The announcement marked the end of a significant era in America's war on terror. “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001,” said the president. “The fight against terrorism goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
Capturing bin Laden has consumed American officials for years and has been central to American politics, as Democrats long charged that the Bush administration was distracted by the war in Iraq, allowing bin Laden to elude capture or death. U.S. officials provided intriguing details about the effort to get bin Laden, including months of preparation and a team of Navy Seals who prepared for the assault while 24-hour surveillance was kept on a fortified villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 35 miles north of Islamabad, where bin Laden was believed to be.
Bin Laden had long been considered to be in poor health, traveling furtively to delay detection despite reportedly needing dialysis. Since 9/11 he has issued some 30 taped communiques that have simultaneously infuriated Americans and given authorities tantalizing clues as to his whereabouts and state of mind.
Bin Laden's death means the U.S. is spared having to take him alive, the prospect of a capture and trial that would have surely strained the system of military tribunals that has been slow to prosecute those who have been in captivity at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A bin Laden trial, or the possibility of his dying while awaiting trial, would have presented enormous woes for the Obama administration.
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