WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama Monday hailed a great day for America after Osama bin Laden’s death, but Pakistan faced tough questions over the terror kingpin’s roomy hideout in a key garrison city.
A sober but clearly relieved Obama said the world was a better place after US Navy SEAL special forces carried out a daring helicopter-borne swoop on the heavily fortified mansion in the city of Abbottobad.
US officials meanwhile said that DNA testing on Bin Laden’s corpse before it was buried at sea with Islamic rituals confirmed the identity of the world’s most wanted terrorist, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
“I think we can all agree this is a good day for America. Our country has kept its commitment to see that justice is done,” Obama said at the White House.
“The world is safer, it is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden,” as he posthumously awarded Medals of Honor to two soldiers of the 1950-53 Korean war.
“Today, we are reminded that as a nation, there is nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we work together.”
Fresh details emerged of the risky raid on the compound, along with pictures showing the blood soaked aftermath of the attack, in which bin Laden was killed in a firefight by US forces who have carried out a massive 10 year manhunt.
Bin Laden was shot through the head after resisting SEAL forces as Obama and top officials nervously waited half a world away for news of the operation, officials said.
The officials also said that they would have been prepared to take the Saudi-born terror mastermind alive had the need arisen during the raid into the heart of a city near Islamabad with close ties to Pakistan’s military.
Other officials said that DNA testing on bin Laden’s body had clearly established the identity of the terror mastermind.
“Bin Laden’s DNA has been matched to several family members. And there is at least 99 percent certainty that the DNA matches that of Osama Bin Laden,” an official told AFP.
Jubilation across the United States started to give way Monday to disbelief that Bin Laden was found living reasonably comfortably in a Pakistani city, and not in some cave in inhospitable Afghan or Pakistani regions.
The facts of his demise posed delicate questions for Pakistan and for its role as the key US ally in its anti-terror campaign.
Mindful of the deep sensitivity of a US raid into the heart of Pakistani territory, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that Islamabad’s cooperation in the mission had been crucial.
“Cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding,” Clinton told reporters, without elaborating.
Few operational details were available of how US helicopter-borne US troops managed the audacious journey into the compound in an operation which carried huge political risks for Obama.
But a US official confided privately that the president had ordered multiple possible attack plans, and that one option that was considered but not adopted was a bombing raid.
In the immediate aftermath of the successful raid, US politicians largely observed a political truce, with some top Republicans congratulating the president and US military forces on the professional nature of the mission.
Former vice president Dick Cheney who has been a withering critic of Obama on national security had rare words of praise for the president.
“The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American forces is a victory for the United States and a tremendous achievement for the military and intelligence professionals who carried out this important mission,” he said.
“I also want to congratulate President Obama and the members of his national security team,” Cheney said in a statement, but warned that although bin Laden was dead, “the war goes on.”
It was unclear if the Obama’s cool handling of the attack would bolster his sagging approval ratings and quiet criticism among Republicans over his nuanced leadership and performance as commander in chief.
But bin Laden’s death, in Pakistan, which is ostensibly America’s top anti terror ally, may raise sharp questions about the rationale for the bloody 10 year US war against extremists in Afghanistan.
Officials said that US forces administered Muslim religious rites for bin Laden aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl-Vinson Monday in the Arabian Sea.
“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial were followed. The deceased’s body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag,” a senior defense official said.
“A military officer read prepared religious remarks which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat-board… (and) eased into the sea.”
Other officials said bin Laden was buried at sea to avoid a traditional burial site being turned into a shrine for the Al-Qaeda leader, who many followers will believe became a martyr for his cause.