Approximately one hour ago, news broke worldwide of the death of Osama bin Laden, confirmed by a special announcement by U.S. President Obama from the White House. According to the President, intelligence following a strong lead dating from last August (2010) finally confirmed that the Al Qaeda leader had been located in a private house in a community in Northwest Pakistan west of Islamabad, and a special forces unit was sent in. Following a brief fire-fight, bin Laden was killed, and his body taken into custody.
The location of the capture/killing apparently was in a private residence, right "under the noses" of a Pakistani military outpost. There has been speculation for a long time that the Pakistani government, its military and intelligence community, was not being straight with America--that it in fact knew bin Laden's whereabouts, and was deliberately concealing this information from us, while it strenuously objected to all American military actions within its own borders. It had been assumed for the better part of a decade that bin Laden was hiding in the rough, remote mountainous terrain along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but increasingly, it was deduced that he was being protected by friendly factions inside Pakistan. The raid and consequent killing confirms all these conjectures.
Whatever the "fallout" from this development, it represents a momentous occasion in the "war on terror" (a phrase--and a policy--coined during the Bush II Administration). Without bin Laden's inspired leadership (and rumored wealth) driving Al Qaeda, it remains now to be seen how powerful that underground, secret organization will remain on the world stage.
Bin Laden was a fanatical leader who created a sense of awesome commitment among his followers. Driven by a fierce anti-American, anti-Western fervor, he sought nothing less than the removal of American and European influence from the Middle and Far East territories. Through his actions, he set into motion events which have so far led directly to two protracted wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan), causing deaths in the hundreds of thousands, with the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.
What kind of a man was Osama bin Laden? He was not a strutting dictator, or a crude tribal chieftain, but a shrewd schemer, convinced of his rectitude, the son of a well-connected--and well-to-do--Saudi Arabian family. As his fanaticism grew, he became devoted to a "jihad" or holy crusade against America and its interests, which he believed had corrupted and compromised his country, and the rest of the Muslim world. Like many fanatical Muslims, he saw Western traditions as a secular profanity, a scourge which he thought must be effaced from history. Though not representative of the majority of peaceful worshippers of Islam, the power of his determination and that of his followers continues to present a severe danger to American interests both here and abroad.
Without its leader, how dangerous will Al Qaeda continue to be? It's a question we won't be able to answer for several more years; but now, at last, we can at least ask it.