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Local Reaction To Death Of Osama Bin Laden


Learn how the local Muslim community and people who lost loved ones in 9/11 are reacting to the news that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been killed. Plus, find out what the local military community thinks about the news. And, hear how bin Laden's death could impact terrorist networks around the world.

Learn how the local Muslim community and people who lost loved ones in 9/11 are reacting to the news that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been killed. Plus, find out what the local military community thinks about the news. And, hear how bin Laden's death could impact terrorist networks around the world.


Amita Sharma, KPBS Investigative Reporter

Joanne Faryon, KPBS reporter and producer of Envision San Diego

Beth Ford Roth, KPBS Guest Military Blogger

Tom Fudge, KPBS Reporter, and author of the "On-Ramp" blog on

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Transcript Disclaimer

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: What will the world be like now without the ominous presence of Osama bin Laden? I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days a roster of KPBS reporters is here to talk about how San Diegans see the world without bin Laden. We'll hear from relatives of the victims of 911, members of the military, and members of our local Pakistani community. We'll also be taking your calls and hear what the death of this terrorist leader means to all of us. Then green activists pin their hopes on the next generation in a school program called Smart by nature of that's all ahead this hour on These Days. First the news.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Even though authorities tell us that Osama bin Laden was virtually powerless in recent years, his death may provide a powerful move toward healing the wounds of 911. The fact that the weekend raid by American forces in Pakistan ended in the killing of bin Laden may bring a sense of fin at to the September 11th attack, and for some, a sense of justice. Today I'll be joined by several KPBS reporters who have been following a number of threads to this story and how it affects San Diego. We will also be taking your calls. We apologize that our phones had a problem during our special report yesterday, but today, we will be taking your calls of our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. We start out the discussion with KPBS investigative reporter, Amita Sharma. Good morning Amita.

SHARMA: Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you were at a press conference yesterday with Muslim leaders, local Muslim leaders, and they were talking about the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. What did they have to say.

SHARMA: Well, let me preface this by saying that moderate reform groups all over the world have been criticized in the past when there have been terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists for not condemning those attacks in strong, unequivocal terms. What the Council on American Islamic Relations did yesterday, the San Diego chapter was they made a preemptive move, if you will, they got out in front and center of the story, they held a press conference, and they basically applauded the killing of Osama bin Laden they basically wanted to get the news out there that, hook, we're on board with what US forces did. This is a guy who did not represent Muslims, who did not represent Islam.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about this group, the council on American/Islamic relations.

SHARMA: Well, CAIR, as it is known, is the largest Muslim civil liberties group in the country. It acts as an advocacy group. When we had about a handful of Somalis, local Somalis, who were indicted on terrorism related charges in San Diego late last year, CAIR was there, at most of the hearings. And basically they monitor these cases against American Muslims to make sure that their rights are not being violated, however, they are not without controversy. One of their founders, I believe his name is Omar Amad, was also the focus of a federal investigation recently in connection with a fundraising allegation against a Muslim charity group.

CAVANAUGH: Now, this -- this statement by these local Muslim leaders seems to reflect a general reaction among Muslims in the Arab world, theft in the leadership, because there has not beg your pardon, if I understand things correctly, not much outrage expressed over this killing.

SHARMA: Well, you know, with the events in Egypt, and the events in Libya you'll note that the leadership there even cowed its population into thinking that, look, if we're not here, you're gonna have the Islamic fundamentalists take over, and quite frankly, Osama bin Laden was a great threat to their power, or like minded people were a great threat to their power. And also I think it should be pointed out that Osama bin Laden didn't just kill Americans, that he killed lots of Muslims, thousands of Muslims all over the world, and that's not been forgotten.

CAVANAUGH: Now, as part of this statement made by members of the council on American Islamic relations here in San Diego, what kind of impact are they thinking bin Laden's death will have on America and the Muslim world.

SHARMA: They're hoping it will open a new chapter in this relationship. That, look, this guy, this bad guy is gone, and look, we're coming out here and we're condemning this as strongly as possible. So hopefully they'll see our good will, and we're on board with what they've done, so we see their good will, and hopefully this is a turning point. But they also -- you know, they had a message for Beth sides again, they offered a little advice for Islamic terrorists all over the world by saying that, look, you know, the United States has said that we will find you and we will take you out. It's probably time to put aside your agenda, drop your weaponry, and carry on in a civilized way. And they also issued a warning to Americans who might be over zealous in their celebration of Osama bin Laden's killing, and maybe target Muslims again as they did over September 11th. Not in big numbers, but there were some hate attacks against them, and so they cautioned against that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So is there any real concern against a backlash --

SHARMA: No. I did ask around yesterday, and there haven't been any reports of that. I think people understand.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you very much Amita for coming in and speaking with us.

SHARMA: Thank you, Maureen, for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And we continue now with our report to San Diego's reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. KPBS reporter Joanne Faryon spoke with families in San Diego who had a personal stake in seeing justice done for the victims of 911. They lost loved ones in the attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. Here's her report.

FARYON: There's an SUV in the long driveway at the Keller residence in the hills of Del Mar. And so I assume someone is home. Brandon Keller answers the door. Yes, he tells me, he's Chandler's brother, and adds he used to be the middle son. But now at 35, he's the eldest.

NEW SPEAKER: My brother was Chad Keller, and he was an aerospace engineer, he worked for Boeing satellite.

FARYON: Brandon's brother was 29 when he was killed on 911, he was traveling from DC to California on American air lines night 77, when terrorists took control of the plane, and crashed into the Pentagon. Brandon, and his patients, were in the car Sunday night when they heard the news of Osama bin Laden's death on the radio, Brandon says it was not joy they felt or even closure, because in the end, nothing will bring back his brother. A brother who was smart, the life of the party, and a hero to Brandon.

NEW SPEAKER: Nothing can take away what happened. It just takes it a little easier. And a little less painful, and it hurts a little less.

FARYON: At the end of another long driveway, this one in La Jolla, sits the home of John and Mary Woodall, their 31-year-old son, Brent, died in the south tower of the world trade center. He was a stock trader. Again, a young among, somewhere in his thirties, answers the door. This family does not want to share this day or the moment with a reporter. 21-year-old Diora bodily also grew up in San Diego. Diora was on United Airlines flight 93 on her way back to college, after visiting friends in New York, when if crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. When Diora's mother, Debra Borza, got the news of bin Laden's death. She said she had a surprising reaction.

NEW SPEAKER: There was nothing there at that moment.

FARYON: President Barack Obama had this to offer to the families who lost loved ones in the 911 attacks when he announced Sunday night Osama bin laden was dead.

NEW SPEAKER: And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror, justice has been done.

FARYON: Joanne Faryon, KPBS news.

CAVANAUGH: If you'd like to share your thoughts and feelings about how this event and killing of Osama bin Laden will change the you said, will change the world. Maybe even change us here in San Diego, we're inviting your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. We'll return with our reporter, and our reporters, after this short break. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We continue our conversation about the world without Osama bin Laden. I'm joined by KPBS reporter and blogger, Tom Fudge, and our guest military blogger Beth Ford Roth. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Beth you are, as I said, our KPBS military blogger. And you've been following it from that angle, and you have a report now, about how crew members of the on the San Diego based USS Carl Vincent -- what role they played in the burial of Osama bin Laden.

ROTH: Yeah, I think it was surprising for a lot of us when we heard that bin Laden was buried at sea to find out that the San Diego based USS Carl Vincent was the aircraft carrier where his body was taken out and dumped into the ocean.

CAVANAUGH: It was. It was sort of surprising to, again, have sort of this San Diego connection.

ROTH: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: To such an international story. You reported bin Laden received a traditional Islamic burial. What does that mean.

ROTH: Well, according to the Navy, bin Laden's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. And then a military officer said a Muslim prayer, and a native Arabic speaker translated that, they placed his body in a weighted bag and put it on a board, tipped up the board, and he slid into the Arabian sea.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Tom Fudge, you spoke with an expert on Islam from at UCSD, professor Babak Rahimi. What did he have to say about the way bin Laden's body was disposed?

FUDGE: Well, Babak Rahimi said that some of the rules were followed. What we heard from the Obama administration was that the burial of Osama bin Laden was done in strict conformist -- in a strictly conformist way to Islamic tradition. I don't think they did that because they wanted to show respect to their particular Muslim, but it is very important for the Obama administration to show a lot of respect to the Muslim world, and this was important to them, and they knew that. Now, Babak Rohimi said if the administration is claiming that they did it in the strict conformity to Muslim rules, that's not entirely true. Yes, if we believed what we've been told, and I see no reason we shouldn't, yes, his body was washed, yes, he was wrapped in a shroud, yes, he was buried within 24 hours of death. But he was buried at sea. And let's listen to what Babak Rohimi has to say about that.

NEW SPEAKER: This guy did not die in the middle of an ocean. He died in the middle of a compound. And the correct quote unquote Islamic tradition is to bury him on the ground. But the problem, the political problem with that, of course, and the U.S. Army knew about this was that we did not, you know, the U.S. did not want a kind of a shrine billed after him, where people could come and make him into a bigger person than he was while he was alive.

FUDGE: So it's clear from what he is saying and I think what we already know is that the US military has to be very careful to balance political considerations with religious considerations. One thing I also asked Babak Rohimi about where we're going to see any pictures of Osama bin Laden, because we have to assume, and I think we can assume that they did take photographs of him after he was captured, and after he was killed. I can imagine a lot of people in the United States want to see the body. They want to see those photographs to bring total closure to it, and I asked Babak Rohimi, well, would that show disrespect to Islamic law, and he said, well, technically speaking, it would, but he wouldn't be surprised, if we saw those photo soon.

CAVANAUGH: And one last question to you, Beth, before we go to the phones, and that is an on topic comment there, the idea that burial at sea has given rise to conspiracies. That was one of the first things that I thought of when I heard that bin Laden's body had been disposed that way. What have you been hearing about that?

ROTH: Well, yes, on the blog a few people have posted comments saying, you know, this is obviously a sham. But there are a few things to keep in mind. One, bin Laden's youngest wife positively identified him, and then the Navy seals who were there heard her identify him before he was killed as Osama. Secondly, the Navy seals themselves identified him with -- they had photographs. Thirdly, there was, you know, conclusive DNA matching with bin Laden and his family members, his sister died several years ago. They took her DNA, and they made a match. And then also, just to keep in mind, bin Laden has been sending out tapes and videos for ten years. If he were still alive, don't you think he would be letting everyone know he's still alive? You didn't catch me? He's gonna be silent and go along with what the United States is saying? I think that's kind of ridiculous.

FUDGE: Though even with all that, the reason I think the photographs may some Kay be important, I think a lot of people want to see the perp walk. And you can't quite do that with a person who is dead. But they want to see the body, they want to see some tangible proof that they can see with their own eyes, that this was Osama bin Laden and this he is dead.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take a couple of calls. 1-888-895-5727 is the number. Chris is calling from Dana Point. Good morning, Chris, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I'm a big Obama supporter, and I was so pleased to see the news, partially just because it reaffirms the type of person I've always known or always believed Obama was. Very decisive, very pragmatic, and just a great leader. But I was distressed to see, though, for odd reasons, I think, was the people celebrating in front of the White House and elsewhere, basically celebrating the death in the way that they were. And though I understand why they were doing that, on 911 and 912, I was very disturbed by the visions of the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, celebrating the fall of the twin towers. And it seemed like we were just doing the same thing. And I was just disappointed that people thought that that was an appropriate way to respond. And I understand it, but -- that's the one negative of this entire thing that bothers me.

CAVANAUGH: Chris, thank you for the call, and thank you for the thought. I think it was shared by a lot of people. Diana is calling from Encinitas. Good morning, Diana, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, and what a beautiful day it is. But I wondered if you could tell me how much money was spent, and how many lives lost in the chase of bin Laden.

CAVANAUGH: In the entire chase of bin Laden. Thank you, Diana. No American lives lost in this operation.

ROTH: That's correct.

THE COURT: We don't know how much money was spent on it. But Tom, you spoke with San Diego bureau chief, LA Times Tony Perry, about Obama's death.

FUDGE: Of Osama's death. You said Obama's death.

CAVANAUGH: I'm sorry. So sorry. Osama's death. Tony Perry has been embedded with marines and at Iraq, and Afghanistan, many times. You talked to Tony Perry about some of the efforts over the years to capture Osama bin Laden.

FUDGE: Yes. And I would like to respond to one of our callers. The first caller, with all due respect, I don't think you can compare the murder of thousands of civilians to the killing of a terrorist Osama bin Laden. And yes, there were celebrations in the country, but in my mind that's perfectly understandable. San Diego bureau chief with the LA Times, he's very well known to These Days audiences. And he has been embedded with local marines, many times, including in 2001, when they went to Afghan standpoint. And he says -- I asked him, well, how is this going to affect the morale of people in the military? And he said that's going to be very positive. But he went back to a story which has been kind of bothering local servicemen and women quite a bit, and he says that the fact is, in 2001, December of 2001, the Marines have very good intelligence telling them where Osama bin Laden was. They thought they had him. And Tony said he was at the Kandahar airport when the marines were about to board the helicopters to go after him, and they believer they knew where he was, and they got a call saying stand down. And the theory is that this call came from high command or from the White House, and the message was let the Afghans do it. Let the Afghans get him, which is kind of hard to believe today.


FUDGE: But that actually did happen. They thought that was politically important, and Osama bin Laden got away. But now that he's caught and killed, Tony had this to say about the event.

NEW SPEAKER: So the Marines at Camp Pendleton, particularly those who were there in 2001, the fact that he's been on the loose all these years, hasn't, as one marine told me, just a knot in my stomach for ten years knowing they had him but couldn't get approval to go in and get him. Now, that knot we hope will be loosened somewhat with the news that Osama bin Laden is dead.

CAVANAUGH: And that's Tony Perry, a clip from Tony Perry of the LA Times. Let's take another call. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Or if you would like to comment online, you can always go to Bill is calling from San Diego, good morning, bill, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I was wondering if al Qaeda planned ahead, and they didn't have a contingency for this kind of thing. In their shoes, I would have taken ten years worth of videos of him walking on hill sides, with a little bit of gray painted into his beard, and his sideburns to show that he was still alive in case of this event. I'd be surprise first degree they didn't have that. We may really rue throwing that body in the ocean.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much, Bill.

ROTH: I find that interesting just in the fact that I think our ability, our military's ability to take a video like that and analyze it and find out when it was made, I would imagine we have that kind of capability. And so even if there were those kind of audiotapes or videotapes made, I think we would be able to figure out if they weren't real.

FUDGE: I agree. Public relations victory, I think, is with the United States, and not with al Qaeda, and I don't know how they could turn that around.

CAVANAUGH: As part of your report, Tom, you spoke with someone who had a very interesting take on the legacy of Osama bin Laden and how he will be remembered. Tell us about that.

FUDGE: Yeah, the fellow I spoke with is a professor at UCSD. His name is Eli Burman, and he is an economist, who has written a book about the economics of terrorism. But when he and I spoke, we didn't really talk much about economics, we talked about the organization of al Qaeda, and we talked about the legacy of Osama bin Laden and I asked him how Osama bin Laden would be remembered. And he made a couple of points, one of them is being that Osama bin Laden aspired to provoke a war of civilization, and he also, perhaps above all, wanted to replace many middle eastern regimes that he despised. And here's what Eli Burman had to say.

NEW SPEAKER: He aspired to replace regimes that he despised? The middle east, and in the Arab world, in the Muslim world overall. And he failed at that. He did not replace one regime. Ironically, peaceful demonstrators did that without him, in Tunisia, and in Egypt, and they may be on their way to doing the same in places like Yemen and Syria.

FUDGE: And of course we can hook at that and consider that very ironic that what has really moved the political system in the middle east has absolutely nothing to do with al Qaeda. It's about a popular revolution which is not entirely secular, but is certainly not entirely religious and has nothing to do with splintered groups like al Qaeda.

CAVANAUGH: And Beth, I want to ask you a little bit about the Navy seals who did the raid on bin Laden's compound. And the fact that the Seals are headquartered here. I think that we know that this particular group of Navy seals had a home base in Virginia; is that right?

ROTH: That's right. And also, I think we sort of have to accept the fact that we're not gonna find out a whole lot about these men. They're --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I heard that. I heard that we may never know.

ROTH: Oh, absolutely. Because can you imagine the kind of bull's eye that would be on their heads? First of all, they are a group of very -- I mean they're selected for this kind of tack, probably the most important task in aren't memory that a Navy seal could undergo. They're men in their twenties and thirties, they're very stable, they're family men. And so I would imagine they wouldn't want their names out there. It's almost like being involved in a mafia hit or something. Their families would be hunted down, I would imagine, would be a top prize for any member of al Qaeda. So I don't think we're -- I would hope we wouldn't find out who these men were, that they would sort of take this secret with them buzz of the danger and the importance of what they did.

CAVANAUGH: Maybe this is one of these things that we learn in 50 or 60 years.

ROTH: Like deep throat, right?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, that whole generation of young men become old men. And therefore they now find the details to an operation this secret and this covert.

FUDGE: Yeah, deep throat is actually a very good comparison. It may be very much like that.

CAVANAUGH: One last question to you, Beth, if I may. You posted about the reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden on the web by military wives. Tell us a little bit about that.

ROTH: Well, there are really a wonderful group of women, and I follow their blogs, I follow them on twitter, and like most of us, they were thrilled that this man who did so much evil to our country was caught and is dead, and they have great pride in the military that conducted this operation, but at the same time they realize that there's an increased danger to their loved ones, whether they're deployed over seas or about to be denied. Or it's their friend's house who's going to be deployed, that there's going to be increased danger they may face. So they're worried that they're facing an increased danger just because of bin Laden's death.


FUDGE: Well, I wanted to say one last thing about the legacy of Osama bin Laden. I spoke with Eli Burman about this, and one thing he mentioned is the fact that Osama bin Laden really over played his hand with anyone 11. If you look at -- he may be a failure today, but if you look at his one great success, it was the terrorist attacks of 911, but it did him no good. If that had not happened, we may not have seen a united front against Osama, we may not have seen a determined effort to destroy Osama bin Laden. So 911 had many victims, many losers, and one of those losers was Osama bin Laden.

THE COURT: Very interesting. And again from that, and what we're saying, Beth, we learn again who is really taking the brunt of this war, this war on terror, this war on al Qaeda, no matter what you want to call it, it's the people who are people out there fighting, and their families at home.

ROTH: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us. I have been speaking with KPBS reporter and blogger, Tom Fudge, his blog is called on-ramp. And our guest military blogger, Beth Ford Roth. Thank you both so much.

ROTH: My play.

CAVANAUGH: And her blog is called home post. And you can find it at Now, coming up, how school kids can get smart by nature of that's as These Days continues here on KPBS.


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