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Questions swirl around bin Laden's death

Questions are swirling about Sunday's commando raid on a walled Pakistani compound and the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Here are some of the answers based on information from various news agencies, including the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and China's Xinhua news agency. Some of the reports quote unnamed U.S. officials.

How do we know the man killed was bin Laden?

U.S. authorities apparently have collected DNA from various bin Laden family members since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That DNA yielded a match with "99.9 percent certainty,'' U.S. officials said. Navy SEAL forces also used facial recognition technology. One of bin Laden's wives in the compound reportedly identified him after the raid.

Why haven't photographs been released?

U.S. officials haven't said explicitly, but President Barack Obama's terrorism adviser John Brennan said one concern is that doing so could jeopardize future intelligence operations. The Obama administration is still debating whether to release photos, Brennan said. Bin Laden also was shot in the head, which would make for grisly photos.

Why not capture him alive?

Bin Laden reportedly was killed during a full-fledged firefight, where he and others shot at U.S. attackers. Three other men were killed, including one of bin Laden's sons, as well as one of bin Laden's wives, whom he might have used as a human shield. No Americans were injured. Pakistani authorities later detained other people at the compound, including two bin Laden wives and six of his children.

Why was the body buried at sea?

Islamic tradition calls for burial within 24 hours. Foreign governments declined to accept the body, U.S. officials said, plus the Obama administration reportedly did not want to create an accessible grave site that could become a symbolic shrine for bin Laden supporters. The body was reportedly washed and wrapped in a sheet before it was put into a weighted bag and slid into the Arabian Sea from the aircraft carrier USS Vinson. A military chaplain spoke, with his message translated into Arabic. Administration officials said the washing and wrapping followed Muslim tradition, but clerics and scholars around the world disputed that. Some said a person dying on land should be buried on land, with the head facing Mecca. Others said family members perform the ritual washing, to purify the body, and recite specific prayers at grave side.

How did U.S. officials know that bin Laden was inside the compound?

They did not know for sure. High-level terrorists interrogated after Sept. 11, 2011, had identified a trusted bin Laden courier. By August, U.S. officials had tracked the courier to the compound. After mid February, Obama held five National Security Council meetings devoted to figuring out whether bin Laden was in the compound and how to get him out. Some advisers in the administration opposed the raid, for lack of sufficient information, Brennan said. But on Friday, Obama gave the go-ahead.

Where did the attack originate?

Black Hawk helicopters ferried about two dozen Navy Seals from Afghanistan. Wearing night vision goggles, they dropped into the compound via ropes, killed bin Laden and returned to Afghanistan after about 40 minutes. Bin Laden's body ended up on the aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea, which is at least 800 miles from Abbottabad.

Did the Pakistani government approve the attack?

No. Though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said "cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding," the administration kept Pakistani authorities in the dark about specific details. In fact, Pakistan scrambled fighter jets during the attack, leading to worries that they might attack U.S. helicopters.

"They had no idea about who might have been on there,'' Brennan said. "Thankfully, there was no engagement with Pakistani forces." Obama said he informed the Pakistani president after the raid.

Why weren't Pakistani authorities alerted?

The raid was a closely guarded secret, even within the administration. No foreign governments were alerted in advance. In addition, Abbottabad, only about 75 miles from the capital of Islamabad, was crawling with Pakistani military and the walled compound, built six years ago, is much larger than nearby houses and had no phone service or Internet access. Several members of Congress accused elements of the Pakistani military of harboring bin Laden. Brennan said Monday it's inconceivable that bin Laden didn't have some support in Pakistan.

What now for al-Qaida?

Al-Qaida is a loose network of terrorists with independent branches in several countries, any one of which could carry out attacks. Bin Laden may have been mainly a figurehead in recent years. But U.S. commandos reportedly confiscated lots of material in the raid, which may help identify other cells. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a 59-year-old Egyptian doctor, has generally been identified as bin Laden's second in command and al-Qaida's operational "brains.''

He is presumed to be hiding in Pakistan and recently made video statements welcoming the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and calling for Arab armies to intervene in Libya. According to the Associated Press, one senior U.S. official said Monday that Zawahiri is far less charismatic than bin Laden and "not as well respected within the organization."

Will anyone receive the $25 million reward that the U.S. offered for information leading to bin Laden's capture?

No word of that yet.

Questions swirl around bin Laden's death 05/02/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 12:20am]

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