No. 10: Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden didn’t just top the list of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists. The al-Qaida leader was already on the agency’s Most Wanted Fugitive list when the attacks came on September 11, 2001, spurring the creation of a separate list.

His entry is notable for two things: one is minor; the other, confounding. His name is spelled “Usama,” a not-so-straightforward consequence of transliteration vs. romanization that has made people wonder online, “Usama or Osama?” The second is that his suspected crimes, listed under “Caution,” are the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed more than 200. Several other plots, including the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the White House, and the Pentagon, may be inferred from the single line, “Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world.”

As the head of the FBI’s chief fugitive publicity unit said in 2001, “To be charged with a crime, this means we have found evidence to confirm our suspicions, and a prosecutor has said we will pursue this case in court.”

Death of Osama bin Laden
Except there will be no trial. On May 1, 2011 — four months shy of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — a Navy SEAL team penetrated bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed him in a firefight. More details of that mission would surface in “SEAL Target Geronimo” by former SEAL commander Chuck Pfarrer, in which he wrote that the death of “Bert” — the Sesame Street nickname for bin Laden; “Ernie” was his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri — took 90 seconds.

But on Monday, May 2, the day when most Americans woke up to the news of his death, all that was known — and perhaps all that mattered at the moment — was that the perpetrator of 9/11 was dead. Searches, some disbelieving, surged about the circumstances (“when was Osama killed,” “when did bin Laden die,” “is Osama really dead,” “Obama speech bin Laden,” “Navy SEALs kill bin Laden”). Others wanted proof of death (“pictures of Osama bin Laden dead body, “pictures of Osama bin Laden dead,” “pictures of dead bin Laden,” “pictures of Osama dead,” “Osama dead body”). A few checked the FBI’s Most Wanted List for a status update — and sure enough, the red banner “Deceased” was there below his photograph.

Read more details on the death of Osama bin Laden

Bin Laden’s last hangout
With news covering the military raid, the only question people really had left was regarding the “bin Laden mansion.” The 38,000-square-foot, three-story house known locally as Waziristan Haveli wasn’t palatial by American standards. It was worth about 20 million rupees, or $250,000, a “middling area” by Pakistani real estate standards. The compound was cluttered, its pantry shelves and refrigerator stocked with some Western brands like Nestle, Pepsi, and Coke. There was no Internet, no landline — but, as the New York Times pointed out, it was “hardly the spartan cave in the mountains.” The settings might not surprise his first wife, Najwa Ghanem, who, according to the book “The Looming Tower,” had married bin Laden when he was a “rich Saudi teenager,” but then had to live “life on the run, deprived, often in squalor.”

Speaking of his wife, of lesser interest was the “Osama bin Laden family,” especially his wives, children, and the niece who had posed for GQ six years earlier and disowned any connection. Bin Laden, from a big family with 53 siblings and stepsiblings, was known to have at least six wives and 20 children. One of his sons, Khaled, died in the raid; another, 20-year-old Hamza, escaped.

The only thing left, besides the clamor over proof of death, would be his deep-sea burial. The USS Carl Vinson took his corpse — washed, wrapped in a white sheet, and placed in a weighted bag — and “eased” him into the North Arabian Sea after performing Islamic rites. If there would be a shrine, it would not be on any soil.

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s hot online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.

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