US President Barack Obama was to honor Osama bin Laden’s Sept. 11, 2001, victims yesterday, laying a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center, where the slain terrorist leader changed the course of history in a day of carnage that shook the US and killed about 3,000 people.
Just days after US Navy SEALs stormed bin Laden’s palatial hideout in Pakistan, killing him with a bullet to the head, the president was to travel to New York for what will be a somber ceremony of remembrance.
The president was to meet with families who lost loved ones and the first-responders who tried to help as the World Trade Center’s twin towers became infernos after bin Laden’s terrorist teams flew hijacked jetliners into the buildings nearly a decade ago.
He makes the journey a day after rejecting calls for him to release death photos of bin Laden as proof he was killed in the airborne raid on his compound. The president said he would not risk giving propaganda to extremists or gloat by publicizing gory photos of the al-Qaeda leader.
To those who doubt, Obama said: “You will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”
His government, meanwhile, insisted the shooting of an unarmed bin Laden during a daring raid in Pakistan was lawful and in national self-defense. Officials who were briefed on the operation said that the Navy SEALs who stormed bin Laden’s compound shot and killed him after they saw him appear to lunge for a weapon.
Obama’s New York visit is intended to have a measured tone — not a bookend to former US president George W. Bush’s rousing visit in the days after the attack when he stood in the rubble and promised vengeance.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called it a “cathartic moment for the American people.”
Obama did not have planned remarks during his trip, but he was likely to make comments during his time at the Sept. 11 memorial, where he was to lay a wreath.
The president must handle the moment without being seen as celebrating bin Laden’s death or aiming to boost his own standing in victory.
“The president is coming here because this is the place where you can really feel what happened that day,” said Joelle -Tripoul, a tourist visiting Manhattan from Marseilles, France. “And I think he wants to come to say that bin Laden’s death marks the end of this stage of our human journey after Sept. 11.”
However, Obama said this is no time to gloat.
“We don’t need to spike the football,” he said in an interview with CBS television during which he announced he would keep bin Laden’s death photos sealed.
Obama invited Bush to join him yesterday, but the former president declined.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday she has “no idea” what she and the rest of Obama’s national security team were watching at the precise moment a photographer snapped what has become an iconic image of the operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.
“Those were 38 of the most intense minutes,” Clinton said of the raid. “I have no idea what any of us were looking at at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken.”
The photo was taken by the White House photographer on Sunday night as Obama and his national security team monitored the assault. Clinton is covering her mouth with her right hand, but she said yesterday that the gesture might not convey any special significance.