Locals linked to war, region reflect on news of bin Laden's death



Crowds gathers outside the White House in Washington early Monday, May 2, 2011, to celebrate after President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Local law enforcement officials contacted this morning welcomed the news of Osama bin Laden's death, but urged continued caution throughout the nation and the world.

Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner and Undersheriff Edward Freyer worked as anti-terrorism investigators with the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2008-2009.

Turner said he has great faith in the military and was confident bin Laden would be brought to justice.

"I knew that it was just a matter of time," he said.

Freyer -- a 30-year FBI veteran -- was elated, but not surprised that military personnel could plan and execute such an operation flawlessly and safely. Freyer said he had worked with some of the Navy SEAL teams, such as the one that killed bin Laden, and called them "a class act."

"They're well-trained and well-capable of pulling off a mission like this," Freyer said.

While bin Laden's death is good news, it will not signal an end to the war on terror, he observed. "I'm sure we'll continue that fight."

And the best way, according to Freyer, is to continue what we've been doing, which has been successful since 9/11 in thwarting major attacks on U.S. soil.

"Increased security around the world, I hope, will prevent further attacks on civilian targets, but's not a guarantee."

Freyer urged local residents to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity.

"But I'm not aware of any credible threat here locally," he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District Office, issued a brief statement today in response to bin Laden's death.

"Like all Americans we take a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that the one responsible for the tragedy of the events on 9/11 finally has been brought to justice," said Joe Saxon, chief of public relations.

Saxon said 196 Corps employees from the Walla Walla District Office have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and another 33 are now serving in those countries.

Professor: Death comes amid shift in Muslim world

Elyse Semerdjian is associate professor of Islamic world, and Middle Eastern history at Whitman College.

Semerdjian's students have recently been learning about al-Qaida and terrorism. News of Osama bin Laden's death will likely energize and enhance classroom discussions. Yet the news of bin Laden's death comes as the Arab world has been in a continuous state of change and revolution over the last few months.

"It's been a very exciting time in the Middle East," Semerdjian said about the Arab revolutions, and now bin Laden's death.

Semerdjian said she felt this is a time to continue thinking critically about what this means on the war against al-Qaida and the potential for backlash, particularly in vulnerable spots like Pakistan.

"I know there's kind of a mood of celebration," she said. "But we're also trying to parse out what this means."

Semerdjian said she would probably agree with the view that the war on terror did not end with bin Laden's death.

"I think there are many other voices out there that are saying this is not the end," she said.

Although bin Laden's death marks the taking down of the major figure head in the movement, al-Qaida itself is represented by different ideologies, and not strictly Islam, she said.

And it's the ideologies, or beliefs behind al-Qaida, that will live on after bin Laden's death.

Despite drawing popularity in some areas, like Saudi Arabia and perhaps Yemen, his home country, bin Laden was not a driving figure in the Arab revolutions that have led to change in Egypt and Tunisia.

"The Arab revolutions were making Osama obsolete," Semerdjian said. "That's part of why he hasn't commented in a while."

Semerdjian also said Americans were not alone in being targeted by bin Laden or al-Qaida. Middle Eastern countries have also suffered tremendously, as have moderate Muslims.

"They're a Muslim group killing Muslim people," she said.

As a professor of history, Semerdjian said it is important to look at current events with an eye toward the history of it all. Al-Qaida is a political organization that is not easily defined or understood simply because it draws from so many beliefs and has born so many different franchises. The group also thrives in conflict, which is why it grew in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, and why there is now evidence that al-Qaida is getting involved in the Libyan conflict.

"They thrive on chaos, and this is the danger," she said.

Ex-advisor: Redemption in Afghan province

Greg Schlenz of Dayton, who spent most of 2008 and 2009 in Panjshir Province in northeastern Afghanistan, said he imagines the citizens of that province are celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Panjshir Province's hero and leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, was killed by al-Qaida suicide bombers posing as reporters on Sept. 9, 2001, just two days before 9/11.

Massoud was known as the Lion of Panjshir, and was successful in resisting both Russian and Taliban invaders.

Bin Laden's death will put to rest the killer of their hero, Schlenz said.

Schlenz predicts the Afghan-Pakistani border will be under heavy lock-down security for a while.

"I'm sure the first reaction is going to be retaliatory in some way," Schlenze said.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's good news to hear that someone like that cannot hide forever. It took a long time in coming, and I'm sure it will help a lot of healing, especially in New York," he said.

Schlenz, a resource conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Dayton, was an agriculture advisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, assigned to Panjshir Province.

Schlenz said Panjshir and neighboring Bamyan Province are the first two Afghan provinces to transfer to non-military supervision. They are regarded as the most forward and secure provinces within the country, he said.


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