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15th Aug 2022

EU and US: Bin Laden death was not assassination

EU officials have backed the US line that the killing of Osama bin Laden, three of his aides and a woman, was not a targeted assassination because US troops were prepared to take him alive.

"I welcome the successful operation by US special forces aimed at bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, which has led to his death," the EU's anti-terrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove said in a statement on Monday (2 May).

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  • Inside the White House situation room as troops were raiding the Bin Laden compound (Photo: The White House)

Echoing earlier remarks from the White House, de Kerchove said that "the circumstances of this difficult operation made it impossible to capture Osama bin Laden alive."

He said the killing is a "significant step" in the fight against terrorism, but noted that even though he is dead, Bin Laden "as a symbol will most likely keep inspiring affiliated groups and individuals for some time, so we should remain vigilant."

During her visit to New York on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also welcomed the deadly raid in Pakistan as a "major blow against both al-Qaeda and terrorist activities worldwide."

"I would like to congratulate the US, pay tribute to its determination and efficiency in reducing the threat posed by terrorists and underline the close cooperation between the EU and US in the fight against terrorism," she said.

Describing the raid as a targeted assassination would put the EU in a diplomatic pickle, as it has a long-standing tradition of condemning such acts, as in cases of killings linked to the Israeli secret service.

Some Israeli politicians took the opposite point of view however, with one Knesset member seeing the Bin Laden killing as a vindication of Israeli methods.

In an interview with Israel Radio aired on Tuesday, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Israeli parliament, Shaul Mofaz, said that the US has adopted the Israeli tactic of targeting terrorist leaders.

Mofaz recalled that the strategy was originally employed by Israel following the murder of nine Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A former defence minister, Mofaz said that targeted killings have been successful in curtailing terrorist activities.

The White House itself has tried to distance itself from the Israeli tactic.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters that the Navy Seal team was prepared for the "remote possibility" of taking Bin Laden alive.

"If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that," he said at a press conference.

Bin Laden was shot in the head and died in the firefight as US elite troops stormed his hideout in Pakistan on Sunday night, killing three other men and a woman "used as a human shield", senior intelligence officials said during a press briefing at the Pentagon.

A total of nine children - aged between 2 and 12 years - and two of Bin Laden's wives were left alive at the compound and have since been taken into custody by the Pakistani security forces.

Bin Laden was buried in the North Arabian Sea from the deck of a US military vessel, after a brief Muslim ritual.

"There was no available alternative in terms of a country that was willing to accept the body, and we took pains to ensure that we were compliant with Muslim tradition and law, and sought to dispose of the body, using the appropriate procedures and rituals, within 24 hours," a senior US defence official said.

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