US & Canada

Will Osama Bin Laden continue to haunt the US?

Osama Bin Laden in Jalalabad area of Afghanistan in 1988
Image caption Many people in Pakistan loathed Bin Laden but others revered him as a hero

The death of Osama Bin Laden is a key moment in the history of the radical Islamist movement he spearheaded. But could he prove as dangerous dead as he was alive?

Osama Bin Laden predicted he would never be captured alive - and that countless others would follow in his footsteps once he was gone.

The first has proved true; the second will now be put to the test.

American officials are clearly elated that, at last, their number one enemy is dead.

But they must also be wondering whether, in death as in life, he will continue to haunt them.

The fact that US officials say they have hastily buried his body at sea suggests a desire to minimise his status as a martyr.

But it risks fuelling conspiracy theories about Bin Laden's death - and even whether he is dead at all.

Divisive figure

One immediate concern for US officials will be how Pakistanis react.

Osama Bin Laden was an intensely divisive figure: while many loathed him, others saw him as a selfless hero.

There will be shock, and no doubt anger, on the streets of Pakistan.

Then there's the question of how the Pakistani authorities will react.

They will be deeply embarrassed that Bin Laden was on their soil, despite their denials - and not far from their capital, Islamabad.

This explains why US President Barack Obama was at pains to stress that, in the operation against Bin Laden's compound, US special forces were under orders to avoid civilian casualties.

US officials later insisted Pakistan had been given no prior knowledge of the operation.

Radical Islam

Two questions remain: Does al-Qaeda have a future and how will it react?

In the short term the Obama administration is already bracing itself for possible revenge attacks, either against US forces in Afghanistan or, worse still, in the American homeland.

But for many the bigger question is whether, in the longer run, al-Qaeda can survive.

Since the start of the year, some experts have argued that the uprisings in the Arab world have rendered it irrelevant.

They will see Bin Laden's death as confirming the trend.

Perhaps. But the root causes of radical Islam - the range of issues that enabled al-Qaeda to recruit disaffected young Muslims to its cause - remain, for the most part, unaddressed.

The death of Bin Laden will strike at the morale of the global jihad, but is unlikely to end it.

Roger Hardy is a visiting fellow at the Centre for International Studies at LSE.