(Reuters) – Those who revered him prayed the news was not true but many in the Arab world felt the death of Osama bin Laden was long overdue.
Some said the killing of the Saudi-born al Qaeda founder in Pakistan was scarcely relevant any more, now that secular uprisings have begun toppling corrupt Arab autocrats who had resisted violent Islamist efforts to weaken their grip on power.
“Oh God, please make this news not true … God curse you, Obama,” said a message on a Jihadist forum in some of the first Islamist reaction to the al Qaeda leader’s death. Oh Americans … it is still legal for us to cut your necks.”
For some in the Middle East, bin Laden has been seen as the only Muslim leader to take the fight against Western dominance to the heart of the enemy — in the form of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.
On the streets of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s native land which stripped him of his citizenship after September 11, there was a mood of disbelief and sorrow among many.
“I feel that it is a lie,” said one Saudi in Riyadh. He did not want to be named. “I don’t trust the U.S. government or the media. They just want to be done with his story. It would be a sad thing if he really did die. I love him and in my eyes he is a hero and a jihadist.”
Officials in the country of his birth maintained near silence at the news of bin Laden’s death. The state news agency merely noted that Washington and Pakistan had announced it.
Other Gulf Arab states also eschewed comment.
Another strand of opinion believes that bin Laden and al Qaeda brought catastrophe on their Muslim world as the United States retaliated with two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the word “Islam” became associated with “terrorism.”
“The damage bin Laden had caused Islam is beyond appalling and a collective shame,” said another Saudi, Mahmoud Sabbagh, on Twitter.
Another, anonymous, Saudi said: “He might have had a noble idea to elevate Islam but his implementation was wrong and caused more harm than good. I believe his death will calm people down and may dry up the wells of terrorism.”
In Yemen, bin Laden’s ancestral home and the base for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been behind recent foiled anti-American attacks, some believed his death would cause his group to lose heart.
“Al Qaeda is finished without bin Laden. Al Qaeda members will not be able to continue,” said Ali Mubarak, a Yemeni man in his 50s as he sipped tea in a cafe in Sanaa.
For many Arabs, inspired by the popular upheavals of the past few months, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death had less significance than it once might have.
“The death of Osama is coming at a very interesting time. The perfect time, when Al Qaeda is in eclipse and the sentiments of freedom are rising,” said Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi commentator and independent analyst.
Recalling the mass demonstrations on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, he added: “The people at Tahrir Square had shut down the ideas and concepts of bin Laden.”
Egyptian Thanaa Al-Atroushy said: “Though I am surprised, I don’t think such news will affect anything in any way. He is a man of al Qaeda, who are known to have weird beliefs to justify killing the innocent like those of September 11.”
RISK OF RETALIATION
But while some hoped his death may terminate al Qaeda, many others believe that al Qaeda franchises across the world would continue campaigns against the United States.
“I am not happy at the news. Osama was seeking justice. He was taking revenge on the Americans and what they did to Arabs, his death to me is martyrdom, I see him a martyr,” added Egyptian Sameh Bakry, a Suez Canal employee.
Omar Bakri, a Lebanese Sunni cleric, mourned bin Laden as a martyr: “His martyrdom will give momentum to a large generation of believers and jihadists.
“Al Qaeda is not a political party, it is a jihadist movement. Al Qaeda does not end with the death of a leader. Bin Laden was first the generation of the Qaeda and now there is a second, third, fourth and fifth generation.”
In Iraq, ravaged by nearly a decade of violence in the battle between bin Laden and the West, some were cautious about the circumstances in which Washington announced his death.
“This is the end of this play. The play about the character of bin Laden that was fabricated by Americans to deform the image of Islam and Muslims,” said Ali Hussain.
“How can you can convince me that all these years American could not kill or even reach him. Americans knew bin Laden suffered from health problems. Maybe he was approaching his death and they wanted to exploit it.”
In non-Arab Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, some ordinary people were also skeptical of Washington’s account: “Are we sure that he has been killed?” said Tehran shopkeeper Ali Asghar Sedaghat. “Or is it another game of the Americans?”