Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Closing in on bin Laden

The long-hunted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces during a 40-minute raid on his compound in Pakistan Monday. See how the events unfolded:
Map of Abbottabad Compound
At the time of the raid, bin Laden was at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a military and tourist town of about 100,000 people. The compound was located in a neighborhood populated by military families one mile from the elite Pakistan Military Academy.
Route of Osama's body

The body's journey

After he was killed at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Osama bin Laden's body was flown by helicopter to Afghanistan for identification, then airlifted to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in an undisclosed location on the Arabian Sea.

The team

The team that killed Osama bin Laden is from the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), a tier one counterterrorism and Special Mission Unit, or "black unit," that is headquartered in Virginia Beach. The team is a component of the Joint Special Operations Command.

Burial at sea

Bin Laden's preparation for burial included some traditional Muslim practices, according to an unnamed senior Defense Department official. Muslim scholars disagree about whether the burial was, in fact, done according to Islam's mandates. What we know about the 50-minute rites:
body preparation 1. Washing
Bin Laden's body was washed while on the aircraft carrier. Islam dictates that male relatives or a surviving spouse wash the body with soap and water in very specific ways, three, five or seven times. The official did not give details as to who washed the body or how it was done.
body preparation 2. Covering
The body was wrapped in a white sheet. Islam requires three clean, preferably white sheets, tied around the body with rope. The body is to be placed in a specific position with the hands on the chest.
3. Prayer
An officer read "religious remarks" which were translated into Arabic. A Muslim service is very specific, with certain prayer recitations, and is carefully choreographed down to where various people stand in relation to the imam and the positioning of mourner's hands.
4. Burial
Bin Laden's body was placed in a weighted bag, laid on a flat board and tipped so that it slid into the sea. Muslims are traditionally buried in a deep hole without a coffin, on their right sides, facing Mecca. Burial for someone who dies at sea requires weighting the body before putting it into the water.
5. Timing
Bin Laden's body went into the sea Monday at 2 a.m. EST (11 a.m. in Pakistan), about 10 hours after his death. Islam requires that a body be buried within 24 hours, ideally before the sun begins to set.
Osama bin Laden

Identifying the body

A senior U.S. intelligence official said these methods were used:
U.S. Special Operations forces recognized bin Laden, and one of his wives confirmed his identity.
Special Forces compared the body to photos. The official also cited "facial recognition" but did not say what that entailed.
Tests confirmed with "99.9 percent certainty" that the body was bin Laden's by matching samples to those of family members, according to White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan.
SOURCES: Defense Department, Associated Press, GlobalSecurity.org, CIA, Muslim Council of Britain, 2005 satellite image: Digital Globe via Google Earth Pro. GRAPHIC: Bonnie Berkowitz, Mary Kate Cannistra, Kat Downs, Todd Lindeman, Alicia Parlapiano, Cristina Rivero and Gene Thorp - The Washington Post. Published May 2, 2011.

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