U.S. President emphasises that America is not at war with Islam

On a day when the United States basked in the glory of its accomplishment in its decade-long war on terror, U.S. President Barack Obama sought to temper the triumphalism over the killing of Osama bin Laden by placing victims of the 9/11 attacks in the spotlight, and also by emphasising that America was not at war with Islam.

Shortly after he announced Osama's killing in a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, large crowds of revellers gathered outside the White House here and near Ground Zero in New York City, waving the American flag and chanting “USA, USA!” and “Yes, we can!”

While many of those speaking to the media expressed joy, a sense of justice delivered or closure, hearing the news of Osama's death, Mr. Obama sought to temper the emotional outpourings, cautioning, “We must also reaffirm that the U.S. is not – and never will be – at war with Islam.”

He said that he had made it clear, just as Mr. Bush did shortly after 9/11, that “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.” Indeed, the al-Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, Mr. Obama said.

Yet the President firmly underscored the significance of bin Laden's killing for the families of those killed on September 11, 2001. He said: “It was nearly ten years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory – hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.”

Mr. Obama also said that while Americans understood the costs of war they would be relentless in defence of their citizens and “our friends and allies.”

“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,” he said.

There was unequivocal and bipartisan praise for the Obama administration's perseverance in tracking down and killing bin Laden. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — also associated with pursuing bin Laden for terror attacks on U.S. soil — hailed his killing as justice delivered.

In a statement Mr. Clinton said, “I congratulate the President, the National Security team and the members of our armed forces on bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.” Mr. Bush, who was in office during the 9/11 attacks, said: “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”

He added a strong message to those who would attack the U.S., saying: “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a similar statement saying that the death of bin Laden sent a message to the Taliban in Afghanistan that “you cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon the al-Qaeda” and participate in a peaceful political process. She added that some doubted bin Laden would ever be caught, but “this is America... We persevere, and we get the job done.”

John Boehner, U.S. House Speaker and Republican of Ohio, said: “This is...a victory in our continued fight against the al-Qaeda and radical extremism around the world. We continue to face a complex and evolving terrorist threat, and it is important that we remain vigilant in our efforts.”

Former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney had direct words of praise for Mr. Obama when he said: “I also want to congratulate President Obama and the members of his National Security team. At this moment when bin Laden has been brought to justice, we especially remember the sacrifice of the young Americans who've paid the ultimate price in the defence of the nation, as well as the nearly 3000 Americans who lost their lives on 9/11.”

While the economic recovery and job creation are likely to continue to be key issues for the presidential elections in November 2012, many observers noted that the killing of bin Laden marked a major achievement for the Obama administration's continued war on terror and would likely improve Mr. Obama's odds of re-election significantly.

More In: International | News