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“Only the mid-level cadres have been speaking,” he told The Washington Times.

On Internet forums for al Qaeda supporters, some welcomed the news that bin Laden had achieved martyrdom, while others said they were praying it was not true.

“If it is true, then we must thank Allah that America was not able to capture him alive,” wrote one poster, noting the “humiliating” video of Saddam Hussein being given a medical examination that the U.S. military released after his capture.

Other contributors were skeptical about the U.S. account, urging their fellows not to believe bin Laden was dead until the news was confirmed by official al Qaeda sources.

“The source of news that we trust is that which comes from the mujahideen,” one counseled. “Be patient and don’t spread rumors.”

Hours later, several of the threads discussing bin Laden’s killing were shut down and the posts removed.

Mr. Khan said he expects a violent response from bin Laden supporters when the news sinks in. “We may see an increase in terrorism,” he said. “Thousands of people across the world still believe” in bin Laden’s ideology.

Officials in Washington said they had no specific intelligence about a possible retaliatory attack. “There may be a heightened threat to the homeland and to U.S. citizens and facilities abroad,” a senior administration official told reporters at the White House.

The Department of Homeland Security said it was not raising the national threat level, but the agency sent an intelligence bulletin to law enforcement warning of the possibility of spontaneous lone-wolf attacks by al Qaeda supporters.

“I have been clear … that we will only issue alerts when we have specific or credible information to convey to the American public,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “We remain at a heightened state of vigilance.”

The State Department said it had sent guidance to embassies worldwide and issued a travel advisory for Pakistan.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to use news of bin Laden’s death as a lure to get the Taliban to join the U.S. in peace talks in Afghanistan.

“Our message to the Taliban remains the same,” she said. “But today, it may have even greater resonance: You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.