Following President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday of the operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the latter’s online grassroots supporters in forums and blogs began quickly to respond. These pronouncements provide key insights into how these activists view Bin Laden as well as their continued commitment to the movement, showing a range of emotions but also the durability of the ideas that bin Laden worked so hard to propagate through propaganda and massive anti-civilian violence.
Below is a taste of the reactions from members of some of the major pro-jihadi forums, including the Ansar Arabic Forum, the English Islamic Awakening Forum, al-Jahad al-‘Alami Arabic Forum, and the Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum (also in English). Many expressed shock at the news and did not want to believe that he had really been killed. A member of the Ansar Forum wrote, "How sound is the news of the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden?" While another responded "O Allah, make this news not true." Another quipped in a different post "God willing, [this] news is not true. Catastrophic if it is authentic."
Others were elated and felt pride that Bin Laden had died as a martyr. A member of Islamic Awakening said joyfully "May Allah increase you rank in Jannah [paradise] o Sheikh Usamah!" While another responded, using the Muslim version of "Amen," "Ameen AMEEN AMEEN! May Allah give you a place next to our beloved Prophet… ameen amen." Showing solidarity with bin Laden, a member stated, "I’m with Osama either in winning a victory or earning status as a martyr."
Some online jihadi activists are still waiting to hear official word from jihadi sources, refusing to believe the news from "kuffar" or infidel sources, especially after the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied this morning that Bin Laden was dead. Still others have reacted angrily, with one member in the Islamic Awakening Forum declaring "God damn you, Obama."
Others placed blame on Pakistan for betraying its people and Islam. "And if it’s true it would be the most shameful moment for the Pakistani people who could not protect one Muslim hero," one forum commenter wrote. "I personally feel the lowest I have ever felt, we couldn’t protect our beloved Sheikh." Another expressed hope that the killing would encourage Pakistanis to rise up and fight the Americans: "Seems like a plot of America to wage war on Pakistan. Anyways, it will be good to see Pakistan fighting America … actually Excellent!"
The celebrations in American cities of the news also drew jihadi scorn. "Just look at those beer-drinking, hog-eating, incestuous, red-necks, uncle sams, house negros…all celebrating outside the White House," one commenter wrote. "It’s like a holiday for them. Really a sad bunch of people. I’m just waiting for the Chocolaty Muslims, Talafies [fake Salafi Muslims], and those borderline murtad[apostates]/moderates to join the ugly bandwagon of cheering this so-called victory." Another opined, looking down on Americans: "The celebrations are amusing. Cheer all you want kuffar, you only have a limited amount of time in this dunya [present world] in which to do it. And then you will see the reality of this life."
Forum participants also warned Americans that they should be careful what they wish for: "please let them celebrate, they are celebrating their own end. Osama is in the heart of every Muslim, even those who don’t admit publicly … Oh Allah send them endless tornados to destroy their homes and earthquakes to crash them."
Ultimately, though, some jihadis tried to bring sobriety to the jubilant conversations in the forum threads that Bin Laden was a true shahid (martyr). One stated: "Why can’t people admit [bin Laden] was killed? He is a human being, not a prophet. Another man will replace his shoes, it’s easy." Although bin Laden’s death is a large symbolic victory for the United States, one cannot forget that this fight is against an ideology – jihadism – that is bigger than one individual or an organization, which an online activist picked up on. "Mashallah the whole nation is celebrating the death of one man. Shaykh Osama was a true lion." And it is apparent that for some, the fight is far from over. "We renew our pledge of allegiance with the Covenant and the first with the Lord to continue our path until the end," he declared. "We will continue .. We will continue .. We will continue .."
Aaron Y. Zelin is a researcher in the Department of Politics at Brandeis University. He maintains the website Jihadology.net, which tracks jihadi primary source material.