On May 2, 2011, the US military killed and buried Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda behind the September 11 attacks. US special forces took him away in a raid on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan, where he and part of his family were hiding. After identifying his body, the military took him aboard the USS Carl Vinson and buried him in the northern Arabian Sea on the same day.
The United States took political, religious and practical factors into account when deciding how to bury Bin Laden’s body. It was feared that if he was buried on earth, his grave could become a sanctuary for his followers. It was necessary to observe Islamic burial practices, including the custom of burying a body within 24 hours of a person’s death. And there was the question of whether the United States should take pictures or provide some sort of visual proof of his death.
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US officials feared his grave could become a sanctuary
When US forces killed 54-year-old Osama Bin Laden, the US government’s explanations for why he didn’t bury him in the ground was a bit inconsistent. News reports cited both official and unofficial U.S. officials saying the U.S. does not want him to have a physical grave because it could become a sanctuary, but also because a country without name had refused to accept his body. Articles have speculated that the country was Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden’s homeland.
“I don’t know where this rumor came from, but I wouldn’t give it much credit,” said Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, president of Islamic studies at the American University and former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK and in Ireland.
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“The Saudis are inclined to a form of Islam called Wahhabism,” he says, which rejects the sanctuaries of eminent figures. The fact that Saudi Arabia would not want his grave to become a sanctuary in their country, combined with the fact that bin Laden was extremely critical of Saudi Arabia, makes Ahmed think that if American officials asked the country to receive bin Laden’s body, ”they ignorantly asked.
Burying bin Laden in northwest Pakistan, where special forces killed him, would also not be ideal from a US perspective, as shrines are seen as powerful symbols in this region, Ahmed says. . To prevent Bin Laden’s grave from becoming an important symbol for his supporters, the United States made the decision to bury him at sea. Although this differs from how most Muslim burials occur, officials Americans insisted that they had still taken steps to bury him according to Islamic traditions.
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Bin Laden’s body was cleaned, wrapped and buried in a small funeral
Speaking at the White House press conference on the murder and burial of Osama bin Laden, John Brennan – then the president’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism – said US officials had “consulted the appropriate specialists and experts “so that” the burial of bin Laden’s remains was done in strict accordance with Islamist precepts and practices. This involved washing Bin Laden’s body, wrapping it in white cloth, saying a ritual prayer with the help of an Arabic translator, and burying him within 24 hours of his death.
Muslim leaders and scholars had differing views on whether to bury him at sea. Some have argued that burials at sea should only take place when a person dies at sea; otherwise, the body must be buried in the ground with the head pointed towards Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Others argued that Islam is a practical religion that takes into account special circumstances, and that burial at sea was permitted given bin Laden’s notoriety and concerns that his grave would become a sanctuary.
Although bin Laden’s funeral service was held aboard a large Navy aircraft carrier with thousands of crew members, only a small group of people were present. Less than a dozen leaders on the Carl Vinson knew the burial was even taking place, according to military emails the Defense Ministry published in 2012 in response to a freedom of information lawsuit.
Obama decided not to post photos
When the United States announced Bin Laden’s death, it questioned whether it should release photos of Bin Laden’s body – which officials claimed to have – in order to counter conspiracy theories that Bin Laden was still alive. In an interview with 60 minutes on CBS, President Barack Obama explained why he didn’t publish them.
“It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of someone who has been shot in the head do not float around as further incitement to violence or as a tool of propaganda,” he said. . “It’s not who we are. We don’t give that stuff away like trophies. “
The decision not to publish images – as well as the attempt to give bin Laden an Islamic burial – contrasted starkly with the way the United States had handled the deaths of Saddam Hussein’s two sons in 2003. After the forces Americans killed Uday and Qusay Hussein, they published graphic photos of the men’s bodies. They also embalmed the bodies, which goes against Islamic custom; left them unburied for over a week; and allowed media outlets to photograph them.
This was offensive to many Iraqis as it seemed that the United States was deliberately disrespecting the bodies of Muslims. Even if a person is executed for crimes, Islamic scholars argue that the person should be given a respectful burial. US officials say bin Laden’s funeral, as criticized as it is, reflected an attempt to honor that principle.