Al-Qa'ida confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday, serving notice it will take revenge on the United States and its allies and carry forward its campaign of terror.
A text, posted on the internet and dated 3 May, from the "general leadership" of the group, said the "blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is precious to us and to all Muslims and will not go in vain". It added: "We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries."
As much a warning to Washington, the statement was meant also to galvanise followers to rise up, including in Pakistan where Bin Laden was found and killed.
Ironically, however, this may actually be helpful to the US as it obviates the need to publish the pictures of the dead terrorist leader to quell conspiracy theorists claiming he is still alive.
As the killing of the perpetrator of 9/11 and other atrocities continued to reverberate around the globe, US officials said a first analysis of intelligence data seized from his house showed that far from being just a figurehead for al-Qa'ida, Bin Laden had been personally involved in hatching new plots against the US, including one to target trains possibly on the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attack in September.
Also coming into focus yesterday were new details of the surveillance the Abbottabad compound had been under since it was first identified as a possible al-Qa'ida hideout last August.
US officials revealed that CIA agents and informants had scrutinised the three-storey structure and its grounds for months from a nearby safe-house using telephoto lenses and long-range hearing devices. At the same time it was under satellite surveillance.
Even as President Barack Obama gave the order a week ago to send in the Seals, US intelligence officials were not completely sure that Osama bBin Laden would be found inside. Over the months, the CIA had seen saw a tall man spending twenty 20 minutes or longer each day walking back and forth in the compound garden.
Teams of experts will be raking through the data taken from the compound for months, translating from Arabic to English and trying, first of all, to discern any evidence of pending attacks against the US. Officials said the possibility of a train attack was one of the first to be spotted, though they do not think it was ever approved by Bin Laden or even finalised.
The indication that Bin Laden stayed involved in potential plots over the last several years from inside the compound contradicts those who argued he had faded into the background as al-Qa'ida's leader.
"He wasn't just a figurehead," one US official who had already been briefed on the first findings from the data told The New York Times. "He continued to plot and plan, to come up with ideas about targets and to communicate those ideas to other senior al-Qa'ida leaders."
As to why Bin Laden chose Abbottabad, a Pakistani army garrison town two hours north of Islamabad, to base himself, US officials supposed it had been to escape the danger of strikes by US drones flying over border tribal areas. Even yesterday, a drone killed 17 people in north-west Pakistan.
In its statement, al-Qa'ida indicated it is preparing to release an audio tape made by Bin Laden in the days before his death. On the revenge that it vows will be taken against Americans, the statement said: "Their happiness will turn into sorrow, and their blood will be mixed with their tears."
The risk of attacks
*Pipe bombs, a targeted car crash, a lone gunman: Western intelligence officials said yesterday that they are seeing increased internet and phone chatter about cheap, small-scale terror attacks to avenge the death of the 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. More than 100 protesters, meanwhile, gathered yesterday outside the US Embassy in London shouting, "USA, you will pay!" and warning of such revenge attacks. European security officials say there is no specific plot that would justify raising the threat level. But one of their biggest fears is the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack like the 2008 shooting spree that killed 166 people and paralysed India's business capital for days.
The cleric Anjem Choudary, who helped organise the demonstration outside the US Embassy, said revenge attacks in Britain and abroad were likely because of Bin Laden's importance to al-Qa'ida and its affiliates. "I think Britain is more likely to face a 7/7 today than ever," he said in reference to the London bombings.