The death of Osama Bin Laden may have brought widespread joy across America and elsewhere, but it also alerted people round the world not least Africans to the very real risk of revenge attacks from al-Qaeda.
The recent bombing of a cafe in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el-Fna square, which left 15 dead, is a pertinent reminder of the terrible threat posed by terrorism, a threat that has affected Africa as much as anywhere else since the day that al-Qaeda burst onto the scene.
In ‘98, it was Africans who suffered most heavily when al-Qaeda bombed the US Embassies of Kenya and Tanzania, leaving 224 people (mainly Africans) dead.
With this in mind, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said he ‘commended all those people behind the successful tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden’.
The Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, was in agreement, saying that ‘Osama’s death can only be positive for Kenya’, although his joy was also tempered with a warning.[protected]
‘The loss of its [al-Qaeda’s] leader may first upset the movement,’ he said, ‘but then it will regroup and continue.’
Mali’s Foreign Minister, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, was another to respond with caution, saying: ‘We have to be careful – particularly in the next three to six months, we have to be extremely vigilant – because we know that every time al-Qaeda suffers a blow like this, it is followed by attempts at revenge.’
So, while al-Qaeda will no doubt be smarting from the death of its leader, political thinkers in Africa and beyond are not fooling themselves into thinking that this marks the end of terrorism.
The bombing in Marrakesh, for example, has not yet been linked to an organisation, with al-Qaeda just one of a number of groups who could have been responsible. Speaking shortly after the event, Moroccan Communications Minister, Khalid Naciri, suggested that very little had changed since the last time the country was the victim of an attack – in Casablanca in May ‘03, when 45 people were killed.
‘Morocco is confronted by the same threats as in ‘03,’ he said.
And for ‘Morocco’, one can just as easily read ‘the World’, for al-Qaeda and its affiliate organisations in the Middle East and Africa (with notable groups in Yemen and Somalia, as well as reported cells across mainland Europe) have been striking in numerous destinations around the world for years and are more than adequately placed to continue where Bin Laden left off.
No sooner had Osama Bin Laden’s death been confirmed than speculation began about who would take over the mantle of al-Qaeda. Some believe that his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is most likely to fill the gap, while it is certain that whoever takes over will be sure also to assume the position of America’s new ‘most wanted man’.
Whoever it proves to be, it will be very interesting to see how the US deal with Osama’s successor because, in killing the man they have been hunting since 9/11, the Americans have started a precedent that has proven hard to justify, and is unlikely to be tolerated by the wider world again.
As various stories leaked out about the details of how Osama met his demise, it has grown ever more apparent that an arrest was probably a viable option but one the soldiers charged with his capture were unable to do, as they proceeded to execute the man who symbolised so much to America and the world.
In doing so, America became a law unto itself, going perilously close to crossing the line of ethical conduct – even if the event was one the US Attorney General claimed to be within the bounds of the law – as, once again, the US seemed to decide upon one law for itself, while the rest of the world goes by another.
The right to a fair trial is one that is recognised universally and yet this option was not given to the al-Qaeda leader. Few would argue anything other than that Osama received his just desserts, yet this is not the issue at stake. The issue is whether or not the Americans can continue to go about their business in a way that ignores the rules of engagement by which everyone else is obliged to adhere.
One question springs to mind immediately: how would America respond were the boot on the other foot? If it were America who had been the victim of an attack where one of their countrymen had been killed, without the option of a fair trial, then it is hard to see them responding with anything other than incredulity.
So while US Attorney General, Eric Holder, claimed that Bin Laden was a lawful military target, whose killing was ‘an act of national self-defence’, saying that ‘it was a kill-or-capture mission and he made no attempt to surrender’, there are many who wonder whether the option of surrender was truly ever afforded to Bin Laden.
Pakistanis have reacted to the news in a range of different ways, with outrage in some quarters and disbelief in others. US President, Barrack Obama, decided not to publish photographs that would prove the death of Bin Laden, for fear that, ‘given the graphic nature of the photos, they would create some national security risk.’
He did, however, assure the wider world of Bin Laden’s death, with emphatic words: ‘There are going to be some folks who deny it,’ he said. ‘The fact of the matter is you won’t see Bin Laden walking on this Earth again.’
Perhaps most interesting at this time, though, are the words of former President, George W. Bush.
‘America has sent an unmistakable message: no matter how long it takes,’ he said, ‘justice will be done.’
Yet the question remains: is the killing of an unarmed man a ‘just’ way to go about ridding the world of one of its indisputable enemies?
A trial would no doubt have raised a series of difficulties, not unlike those that arose during the lengthy and, at times, farcical trial of Saddam Hussein – including a difficulty to pin charges upon Osama Bin Laden and the very real potential that a lengthy trial would only lead to a greater level of popularity and hero worship among his supporters.
Yet, once again, it is difficult to argue that the problems involved in such a trial present any reason why a trial should not take place. The fact of the matter is that the Americans took matters into their own hands, in the full knowledge that if they had not done so, they would now be receiving great pressure from the rest of the world to present Osama Bin Laden’s case in front of a free and fair jury.[/protected]