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US Officials Warn Terrorism Threat Remains Post-bin Laden

Osama bin Laden (L) sits with al-Qaida's top strategist and second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri in this 2001 file photo
Osama bin Laden (L) sits with al-Qaida's top strategist and second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri in this 2001 file photo
Mike O'Sullivan

As Americans reacted to the news of Osama bin Laden's killing by U.S. commandos, officials warned that the al-Qaida leader's death in a firefight in Pakistan does not remove the threat of terrorist attacks.   Bin Laden's killing by American elite forces closes a chapter in the war on terrorism, but officials say the battle against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups will continue.

The successful raid in the Pakistan city, Abbotabad in the early hours Monday led President Obama to declare that “justice has been done.”  United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a “watershed moment.”  But French President Nicolas Sarkozy cautioned that this is not the end of al-Qaida and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the fight will not end with bin Laden's death.

“Continued cooperation will be just as important in the days ahead, because even as we mark this milestone, we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaida and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden,” Clinton said.

U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan during the daily news briefing at the White House, May 2, 2011
U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan during the daily news briefing at the White House, May 2, 2011

John Brennan, President Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, told reporters that the al-Qaida leader was "hiding in plain sight," and must have had help.  Bin Laden was tracked to a compound in an affluent neighborhood about 50 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad, in an area heavy with Pakistani military and intelligence personnel.

Brennan told reporters Monday that al-Qaida is damaged but remains dangerous.  He adds that it is out of step with events in the Muslim world.

The successful operation comes just months before the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2001.  In the 10 years since then, government buildings in the  United States have had security upgrades.  

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying it would not issue an alert because of bin Laden’s death, but said the agency remains at a heightened state of vigilance.

Local officials around the country echoed the comments coming from Washington.  Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck called the day of bin Laden's death a great day for America, but issued a caveat.

“While we savor that victory, we have to be ever mindful that taking away the leader does not remove the organization," Beck said.  "We still face significant threats and, while there are no specific threats to Los Angeles, the general threat [is there] and my obligation is to keep this city safe.”

Los Angeles resident Margaret Gray drove to the airport to drop off her daughter, who was flying to Chicago, and Gray was pleased to see added security.

“There is a security stop on the way in and he needs to check in the back of my truck.  I mean, he just peaked in the window, but he was so positive and ended up saying 'Have a great day.'  It's not like extreme measures or anything, so I feel good that they want to stay on top of things and they're trying to be alert and ready,” Gray said.

Analyst Robert Guttman of Johns Hopkins University says the heightened vigilance will continue in major cities in the United States and elsewhere.

“It’s not over. I think it’s going to be a heightened security all around the United States - especially in New York, Washington and London,” Guttman said.

A number of key al-Qaida figures have been killed or captured, but others remain at large, including Ayman a-Zarahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy.

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