For Douglas Sidialo, this was personal.
For the past 12-and-a-half years, Sidialo says he has been nursing fantasies of skinning Osama bin Laden alive. He was an up-and-coming Kenyan executive, on his way to work in August 1998, when bin Laden’s men blew up the US embassy in Nairobi, killing scores of people and sending glass slicing through Sidialo’s eyes, leaving him totally blind.
On Monday, when he turned on his radio at the crack of dawn as he always does, Sidialo learned that bin Laden was dead.
“It was a great relief,” Sidialo said. “I only wish he had been captured, so he could confess his sins and his evils.”
Kenyans, from the president down, seemed happy bin Laden had been killed.
“His killing is an act of justice,” Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said.
Bin Laden’s organization, al-Qaeda, has exploited this region’s porous borders, and weak and often deeply corrupt security services, striking several times. The attacks started in 1998, with the simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people, most of them local workers. Al-Qaeda struck Kenya again in 2002, bombing a beachside hotel and nearly blowing up an airliner.
Then last summer, al-Shabab, a Somali insurgent group that has pledged allegiance to bin Laden and adopted many signature al-Qaeda tactics, claimed responsibility for killing dozens of Ugandans watching the World Cup.
“The death of bin Laden hopefully will bring about a new era,” said Kintu Nyango, an official in Uganda’s presidential office. “The world will become a better place.”
Al-Shabab said it had carried out the attack because Uganda had sent thousands of peacekeepers to Somalia to bolster the weak government. Somali and US officials say al-Qaeda agents have helped al-Shabab build a core of foreign fighters determined to turn Somalia into a battleground for jihad, leading to US military strikes against them.
Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed welcomed bin Laden’s death, accusing al-Qaeda of suicide attacks that killed government officials. Residents in Mogadishu echoed the sentiment, hoping bin Laden’s death would weaken al-Shabab.
“Our country has been destroyed by Osama’s followers,” said Hibaaq Ali, a tea seller in Mogadishu. “Our youth were misled [by his] murderous ethos, but from today on, we will live in peace, as al-Shabab cannot stay without him. They will also disappear.”
On Monday, a small crowd gathered in Nairobi at the memorial built on the site of the US embassy. One woman quietly laid five roses at the foot of a plaque commemorating the dead.
“I know this isn’t the end of the war, but it’s closure for me,” she said.
In Sudan, where bin Laden lived for several years in the 1990s, the government declined to comment on bin Laden’s death.
Many Sudanese still sympathize with al-Qaeda, but the government is also eager to be removed from the US’ list of state sponsors of terrorism. Others spoke openly about bin Laden’s becoming a martyr.
Jamal Mahmud, a professor, said he was content that bin Laden “died with American bullets,” not as a prisoner.
“He is the only one who brought us a sense of victory,” Mahmud said.
However, in Burkina Faso, a predominantly Muslim country in West Africa, Christians and Muslims said they wished bin Laden had been captured alive so that he could have been prosecuted.