Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden’s secret sea burial adds to the mystery of his life

Bin Laden’s secret sea burial adds to the mystery of his life
New York and the Pentagon.
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By Craig Whitlock, William Wan and Greg Miller, Updated: Monday, May 2, 5:30 PM
Osama bin Laden’s final resting place seems destined to remain a secret, just like his whereabouts for most of the past decade.

Hours after he was killed in Pakistan in a firefight with U.S. Navy SEALs, bin Laden’s corpse was flown to Afghanistan to be identified through DNA analysis, then transported to the northern Arabian sea.

U.S. intelligence officials are revealing some details of what led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. (May 2)

Four helicopters swooped in early Monday and killed Osama bin Laden in a fiery American raid on his fortress-like compound in a Pakistani town that is home to three army regiments. (May 2)
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There, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, the body of one of the world’s most feared terrorist masterminds was washed in accordance with Islamic ritual and lowered into the water.

Submerging the body at sea precluded the establishment of a gravesite shrine that could become a rallying point for bin Laden’s followers. It may have circumvented unseemly arguments over custody of his body or accusations of religious disrespect.

The rapid disposal of bin Laden’s body also adhered to the Muslim tradition of burial within 24 hours of death.

Bin Laden had predicted for many years that he would die as a “martyr” to his cause, and had instructed his followers to kill him rather than allow him to fall alive into enemy hands. It remains unclear if he was killed by American bullets or by friendly fire during a 40-minute raid on his heavily fortified compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, about 65 miles outside of Islamabad.

His demise solved an immediate problem for U.S. officials, who had long debated what they would actually do with bin Laden if he were captured alive. Putting him on trial, some officials feared, would merely give him a fresh global platform to amplify his message. Similarly, locking him up for the rest of his life might only reinforce his importance as an inspirational figure for Islamic radicals.

Instead, President Obama announced late Sunday that bin Laden was dead. Word of the sea burial came hours later. The U.S. government did not immediately release any photographs or other visual evidence to confirm the death, but a Pentagon spokesman told reporters Monday that officials verified his identity through DNA testing.

Analysts predicted that al-Qaeda itself would soon confirm bin Laden’s death, as the network customarily has within short order after other top leaders have been killed. They said it was likely that bin Laden had pre-recorded a video or audio message that would now be released.

Burials at sea are highly unusual among Muslims, experts said. They normally would occur only if someone dies while on a voyage, to avoid keeping a decaying body on board, or if there is a fear that the body could be dug up and mutilated if it was interred in the ground.

Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, said burying bin Laden at sea “appears to have been mostly a political decision.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. government asked Saudi Arabia, where bin Laden was born, to take his remains, but the government declined. “You’re certainly not going to bury him on U.S. land,” Moosa said. “And many countries may not have wanted to take the body in.”

The key question, Moosa said, is whether the U.S. strategy of sea burial will really work to defuse bin Laden’s potential as a cult figure.

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