White House officials decided before Sunday's firefight in northern Pakistan that if U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden, they would bury him at sea to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine for his followers, the New York Times reports.
U.S. officials stressed Monday that the sea burial followed Islamic custom.
"The disposal of — the burial of bin Laden's remains was done in strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices," said John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, who added the administration had consulted with Islamic experts.
"It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements," he said. "We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strict conformance. So it was taken care of in the appropriate way."
But some Islamic scholars and clerics were divided Monday over whether the sea burial was appropriate or an insult to Muslims. Several said bin Laden should have been buried on land in a simple grave.
After members of the Navy SEALs killed the man they believed to be bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan, CIA agents compared DNA samples with the profiles of several family members to confirm his identity, finding a "virtually 100 percent" match, the New York Times reported, citing a senior U.S. intelligence official.
One of bin Laden's wives who was living in the compound identified the body, the report said. CIA specialists also compared photographs of the body with known photographs of bin Laden. Brennan said the various forms of identification created "a growing sense of confidence and a growing sense of accomplishment."
"There wasn't one 'aha' when people say, you know, okay, the DNA results came in," he said. "No, this is something that was building over time, and we made a decision then last night, because we felt as though we were confident enough to go out to the American people and out to the world, to say we got him."
Brennan added that the administration had not decided whether to release photographs of the body.
"We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nobody has any basis to try to deny that we got Osama bin Laden," Brennan said. "And so, therefore, the releasing of information and whether that includes photographs — this is something to be determined."
The indecision over whether to release the photographs reflected the administration's desire to end speculation about whether the man killed was really bin Laden — and its fears that the pictures would inflame and rally jihadists.
After the firefight in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, military forces transferred the body to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea, first making an unspecified stop en route, according to the New York Times, citing a senior defense official said. The body was washed in accordance with Islamic custom, placed in a white sheet, then put inside a weighted bag.
With only a small group of witnesses, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a "native speaker," according to the Times report. The body was placed on a board, tipped up and then eased into the sea from the carrier's lowest deck.
According to the Associated Press, citing a senior defense official, the burial was videotaped. AP reported that the official said it was highly likely that the video, along with photographs of bin Laden's body, would be made public in coming days.
The intelligence community has been collecting DNA samples from bin Laden's relatives for years, according to report from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, citing a U.S. intelligence official. Because the family is so big, it was not difficult to obtain samples, the report said, particularly from relatives who opposed bin Laden's activities.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI agent, confirmed that the government had more than one source of DNA.
"Through the DNA testing and other things, it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was Osama bin Laden, based on the science," he said.