CAIRO — Al Qaeda confirmed the killing of Osama bin Laden and vowed revenge, saying Friday that Americans’ “happiness will turn to sadness.” The statement was the first by the terror network since its leader was slain in a U.S. commando raid against his Pakistani hideout.
The statement, written in typical al Qaeda style and in the name of the organization’s General Command, seemed mostly intended to reassure followers that the terror group remains vigorous and intact.
The statement was dated Tuesday, the day after bin Laden’s death. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but it was posted on militant websites Friday by the al-Fajr Center, al Qaeda’s online media distribution network.
“The blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is too precious to us and to all Muslims to go in vain,” the statement said. “We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries.”
“Soon, God willing, their happiness will turn to sadness,” it said, “their blood will be mingled with their tears.”
The confirmation by al Qaeda should remove doubt among all but the most die-hard conspiracy theorists that bin Laden is in fact dead.
Earlier Friday, hundreds of members of radical Islamic parties protested in several Pakistan cities against the U.S. raid. Many chanted “Osama is alive” and blasted the U.S. for violating the country’s sovereignty.
The need to provide proof was behind arguments that the U.S. should release a photo of the slain terror leader. U.S. President Barack Obama has chosen to withhold the photo.
The statement also opens the way for the group to name a successor to bin Laden. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, is now the most prominent figure in the group and a likely contender to take his place.
“Sheik Osama didn’t build an organization to die when he dies,” the statement read. “The university of faith, Quran and jihad from which bin Laden graduated will not close its doors,” it added.
The statement came as newly uncovered documents found in bin Laden’s residence revealed plans for derailing an American train on the coming 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to U.S. officials. Counterterrorism officials said they believe the plot was only in the initial planning stages at the time.
But it does suggest that bin Laden may have been more involved in operations than the U.S. had assumed when they tried to portray him as merely an inspirational figure who was uninvolved in operations.
It’s unclear whether either the al Qaeda statement or the material seized by the Navy SEALs in Monday’s deadly raid at bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad shows that a serious plot is currently under way.
Al Qaeda, which carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has never abandoned its hope of again attacking the U.S. homeland. Its plots are usually large-scale and are believed to involve planning over months or even years.
But terror experts have said the threat of attacks could spike in the coming days from individuals or small extremist groups inspired to take revenge for the killing. Western intelligence officials say they are seeing increased Internet and phone chatter about cheap, small-scale terror attacks.
U.S. officials had no immediate comment on al Qaeda’s latest threat.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she’s urged the homeland security secretary to increase the country’s threat level while the material seized from bin Laden’s compound is reviewed.
“I continue to question the secretary’s decision not to increase the threat level,” said Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Security officials in Europe say there is no specific plot to justify raising the threat level there. But one of their biggest fears is the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack like the 2008 shooting spree that killed 166 people and paralyzed India’s business capital for days.
More than 100 protesters gathered Friday outside the U.S. Embassy in London shouting, “USA, you will pay!” and warning of revenge attacks.
Interpol has asked law enforcement agencies in some 188 countries to be on alert for retaliatory attacks. Communities have been warned to report anything suspicious. Embassies and some American businesses have added new security measures.
Rather than only making vehement cries of vengeance, the al Qaeda statement — entitled “You lived as a good man, you died as a martyr” — struck a tone of calm and continuity. Though it included praise of bin Laden, much of the 11-paragraph statement was dedicated to underlining that al Qaeda would live on, depicting him as just another in a line of “martyrs” from the group.
“The soldiers of Islam will continue in groups and united, plotting and planning without getting bored, tired, with determination, without giving up until striking a blow,” the statement.
It said bin Laden was killed “along an established path followed by the best of those who came before him and those who will come after him.”
In the statement, al Qaeda also called on Pakistanis to rise up in revolt against its leaders to “cleanse the shame.” And it said that an audio message bin Laden recorded a week before his death would be issued soon — a prediction made this week by U.S. officials.
But the writers of the al Qaeda statement appeared unaware of the U.S. announcement that bin Laden’s body had been buried at sea. The statement warned against mishandling or mistreating bin Laden’s body and demanded that it be handed over to his family, saying “any harm (to the body) will open more doors of evil, and there will be no one to blame but yourselves.”
Reaction in the Islamic world to bin Laden’s death has been relatively muted compared with the rage that he long inspired, raising questions about his relevance in a region that has been changed by a wave of pro-democracy uprisings.
The largest anti-U.S. rally in Pakistan on Friday took place in the town of Khuchlak in southwestern Baluchistan province, where about 500 people attended.
“America is celebrating Osama bin Laden’s killing, but it will be a temporary celebration,” said Abdullah Sittar Chishti, a member of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party who attended the rally in Khuchlak. “After the martyrdom of Osama, billions, trillions of Osamas will be born.”
Several hundred Egyptians also performed the funeral prayer for the absent, a special rite for the dead in the absence of a body.
The Egyptian protesters then marched toward the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, chanting “Osama is not a terrorist. He is a martyr” and “Obama you are a liar, Osama’s blood won’t be in vain.”
One lifted a banner reading: “Al-Azhar, Islamic scholars and millions of Muslims condemn throwing the body of the martyr mujahid (holy warrior) Osama bin Laden into the sea.”
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