Archive for May, 2011

Memorial Day Plans Change Due To Rising Gas Prices

May 27th, 2011 by Mariah

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The high price of gas is forcing many Americans to change their travel plans for the Memorial Day weekend, according to a survey released Friday.

 

A CNN/Opinion Research poll showed that one in four adult Americans have altered their plans for this weekend because of high gas prices, and more than half say they have changed their overall vacation plans.

 

 

Gas prices are now averaging $3.81 a gallon nationwide, according to a daily survey from motorist group AAA. That’s up from $2.92 a gallon at this time last year.

 

Overall, a strong majority of Americans say they have made changes in their daily life as a result of high gas prices, with one third indicating that those changes have impacted their quality of life.

 

But the survey suggests that lower income households are feeling the most pain.

 

Among households that earn $50,000 a year or less, more than 40% said high gas prices have forced major changes in their life. By contrast, only 24% of households that earn more than $50,000 a year have changed their habits.

 

“Lower-income people and rural Americans are most likely to report major changes in their daily lives due to the price of gasoline,” said Keating Holland, polling director at CNN.

 

While gas prices are typically more of a burden for drivers in rural areas, the recent spike in gas prices is almost as painful for drivers in big cities, according to the survey. In the survey, 42% of rural residents and 35% of urban dwellers say gas prices have forced changes in their daily lives.

Air France Crash Victims To Undergo DNA Testing

May 12th, 2011 by Mariah

Paris (CNN) — French air accident investigators probing a mysterious crash that killed 228 people will not bring more bodies up from the Atlantic Ocean if they cannot identify the two they already have, they said Thursday.

 

Those two bodies are being examined to see if there is enough DNA to identify them, investigators said, adding that they hope to have results by Wednesday.

 

If they can identify the remains, they will consider bringing up other bodies from the wreckage of Air France flight 447, which crashed nearly two years ago off the coast of Brazil.

 

Only about 50 bodies were recovered in the aftermath of the crash. The bulk of the wreckage was located earlier this year and contains many more human remains, investigators say.

 

Recovering more bodies will be a difficult task, with miles of cable required to bring each one up over a period of three hours, they said. Relatives of the victims are divided on whether they should be left in place or brought to the surface.

Experts trying to figure out why the plane crashed expect to know Monday whether they will be able to recover information from data recorders found at the bottom of the ocean, they said Thursday.

 

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were found almost two weeks ago after an unprecedented series of submarine searches of a mountain range 3,900 meters (12,700 feet) under the ocean. They were brought to the surface and taken to Paris by ship and plane.

 

Over the next several days, their protective casing will be removed, salt will be cleaned off, and the recorders will be left out to dry, investigators told journalists in Paris Thursday.

 

Once they are dry, any further salt residue will be removed.

 

Investigators will assess the recorders visually, then check the state of

the memory cards and finally make a back-up of the cards.

 

This could take up to three days, they said. Only then they will begin to analyze what is on the recorders, they added.

 

Investigators also brought an engine and an avionics bay containing computers to the surface Monday, they said

 

The pilots of Air France 447 lost contact with air traffic controllers on

June 1, 2009, while flying across an area of the Atlantic known for severe turbulence, officials said. But exactly what caused the plane to plunge into the ocean remains a mystery.

 

The plane belly-flopped into the water while en route from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, falling so fast that air masks did not have time to deploy.

 

The fuselage was discovered in April with bodies still inside, investigators said.

 

A first body was recovered May 3, still buckled into its seat, days after the data recorders were found, the French Interior Ministry said.

The body “appeared degraded,” the ministry added in a written statement. Another body was brought up two days later.

 

“The attempts to bring up the bodies were made in particularly complex conditions. Considerable uncertainties still remain regarding the technical feasibility of recovering the bodies,” the Interior Ministry statement said.

 

DNA samples from the remains will be sent to a laboratory for analysis, the statement added.

 

Some relatives of those who died have expressed reservations about remains being brought to the surface.

 

Last month Robert Soulas, head of a support group for families of flight victims, said: “For me, personally I would like to leave the bodies of my children, my two children, on the seabed.”

 

Other relatives have called for the bodies to be recovered.

 

France’s Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) said last week that the external casings of both the flight recorders — which record data and cockpit voices — were in good condition and that they had started a “drying” process.

 

Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for the Paris-based BEA, said at the time that even if there was some internal damage to the recorders, some data might still be recoverable.

 

“We must be very very careful… we are confident but it will take time for us to know whether we can retrieve all the data.”

 

But Phil Seymour, chief operating officer of the International Bureau of Aviation, a British aviation consultancy, said: “I remain skeptical about how useful this device (memory unit) will be. If you were to throw a computer into the ocean, imagine how all the parts would eventually split up. You also have the corrosive effects of seawater and the immense depths involved.”

Inspector general to look at air traffic mistakes

May 12th, 2011 by Mariah

Washington (CNN) — Is a 50% jump in errors by air traffic controllers evidence of a dangerous, mistake-prone work force?

 

Or is it evidence that a new reporting system, which ultimately may make flying safer, is working?

 

The Department of Transportation’s inspector general says he will try to find out.

 

At the request of Congress, the Office of Inspector General said it is launching an investigation into the increase in “operational errors” — the term used when a controller fails to maintain safe distances between planes.

 

According to Federal Aviation Administration statistics, the number of errors has increased by more than 50% in fiscal 2010.

 

The FAA contends the increase is mostly due to a new reporting system known as the Air Traffic Safety Action Program. The voluntary system allows controllers to report errors without fear of punishment under most circumstances. Advocates say the system helps the FAA learn of errors, recognize trends and address them.

 

The FAA also recently implemented the System Loss of Standard Separation Index, designed to identify incidents where there is a loss of separation between aircraft.

 

The inspector general said it is auditing both programs at the request of Congress.

When row 21 is actually row 9 – The method behind airline row numbers

May 12th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — You wouldn’t think row numbering on airplanes would be something worth spending time on, but the new United disagrees. Beginning June 9, the pre-merger United domestic fleet will be getting new row numbers to match the way numbering was done by Continental before the merger. This may seem like a waste of time, but frequent fliers will actually benefit from this change.

 

Today, United’s domestic fleet starts with row 1 in first class. Then coach starts at either row 6 or 8 and counts back from there. On an A319, that means that row 24 is the end of the line. Beginning in June, however, that airplane might seem longer. The last row will now be 34. Is it growing? Of course not.

 

First class will continue to start at row 1, but now every domestic airplane will have coach starting at row 7 for consistency. And the exit row will now start at row 20, regardless of what row was before it. That means in the new configuration on an A319, for example, there will be a jump from row 12 to row 20.

 

Consistency can make a big difference in a case like this, especially when airplanes have to be swapped at the last minute. The exit row seats are saved for the airline’s most-valued customers because of the extra legroom. So, one of the most important frequent fliers may be booked in that prime exit row window seat, 12A, on one of United’s A320 aircraft. But United has two seating configurations on its A320s, so what if the airline needs to change the airplane? Not only is row 12 not an exit row, but it’s not even in Economy Plus anymore. That is going to be one unhappy traveler.

 

Going forward, if that traveler was booked in row 20 in an exit row, he will continue to be in an exit row even if the airplane is swapped. And now anyone sitting in rows 7 through 21 will be in Economy Plus, the rows that provide extra legroom for an additional cost, regardless of the airplane. This will make it a lot easier to please customers when the inevitable aircraft swap happens.

 

So, although confusing, this odd standardization makes sense for passengers. Sometimes the reasoning isn’t quite as practical. Many airlines, for example, avoid row 13, apparently out of superstition. Aeromexico, Air France, AirTran, Continental, Emirates and Singapore

Airlines are just a few that honor this practice despite the fact that no airplane has ever crashed simply because it had a row 13.

 

Other airlines seem to have their heads in the right place, but instead just cause mass confusion. Air China goes completely out of order. On its 747s, you’ll find rows 11 through 14 in the nose followed by rows 1, 2, and 3 behind. Why? The airline found first class fits best in the second cabin but it still wanted to make sure row 1 was reserved for those top travelers, despite the fact it’s nowhere near the first row.

 

It’s not just row-numbering that causes confusion, but seat-lettering as well. It’s almost always a safe bet that any seat with the letter A is a window on the left side, but that’s where the consistency ends.

United’s Express partners operate two types of similarly sized propeller airplanes for the airline. Both have one seat on one side of the aisle and two on the other. One of the airplanes, however, has A on the left and then B/C on the right. The other has A on the left and D/F on the right. Why? Good question. Different operators choose different conventions and there’s no rhyme nor reason from the customer perspective. You just have to be vigilant to make sure you pick a good seat.

 

Some lettering quirks, however, actually are customer-focused. For example, it’s rare to find a seat lettered “I” on any airline, because it can easily be confused with a 1. That may sound strange, but back in the day, TWA actually used numbers for some of its seats. You might find yourself in 10-1 instead of seat 10A. Fortunately, those days are long gone.

 

In the end, while the airlines may be making changes to make things easier, it doesn’t always end up being easy to understand. Use a site like SeatGuru.com to make things more clear. If you’re still lost, ask a flight attendant. They can always point you in the right direction.

Solo Travel Tips

May 12th, 2011 by Mariah

(Budget Travel) — The freedom to go precisely where you want, when you want and how you want — behold, the power of one!

Budget Travel’s Trip Coach answers 6 of the most common solo travel questions:

 

I’m planning to take a trip by myself. Are there any destinations that are especially appealing for solo travelers?

First off, you’re not alone. Solo travelers account for 11 percent of all American vacationers. No destination is strictly off-limits to solo travelers, but some places are easier (and more appealing) to navigate than others.

In general, the best bets for first-time single travelers are English-speaking destinations known for their friendliness and hospitality, such as Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. After all, you’re a lot less likely to get lost or feel lonely if you’re surrounded by people who can understand what you’re saying. Within Southeast Asia, Thailand and Vietnam are also particularly welcoming, if only for the affordability and prevalence of English.

 

What are some ways I can connect with others on the road?

You’ll want to start planting the seed before you go: Talk up your travel plans on Facebook, Twitter and other social-media outlets. You might be surprised to discover a long-lost friend from college who plans on passing through Paris when you are, too; or perhaps a colleague has family in India, near the yoga retreat where you’ve booked a stay.

Another networking suggestion, from IndependentTraveler.com editor Sarah Schlichter, is to use the website couchsurfing.org. Even if you’re not interested in the site’s primary service (setting up free couch-stays), it can be a handy tool for connecting with locals around the world. “The site draws social types who are obviously up for meeting and hosting travelers,” she says. “You can suggest lunch or coffee at a café or museum.”

 

Beth Whitman, author of “Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo,” offers this simple tip: Go to a busy park, sit out on a bench with a map and phrasebook, and wait for a curious passerby to make the first move. “You’d be amazed how often this works for me,” she says. “In faraway locations, especially, there are always friendly college students who want to practice English.”

 

Finally, be strategic about where you stay. At big chain hotels, people tend to retreat to the comfort of their own private rooms; your chances of befriending other travelers are far better at B&Bs and family-run inns, where guests congregate at the breakfast table and in common areas.

 

Any tips for keeping costs down?

When you’re on your own, lodging becomes the main, annoying expense. Solo travelers are effectively charged twice as much in hotels because most places automatically base their room rates on double occupancy. One way around this surcharge, called a single-supplement fee, is to simply ask for a discount: Point out that you’re the only person staying in the room and that you’ll be using less electricity and water and eating less breakfast than two guests.

“Bargaining over room rates is common and accepted in most of the world,” Whitman says. “Smaller, family-run hotels are more apt to give price breaks than chains or ritzy properties.”

 

On cruises, solo travelers are often charged the full cabin rate — which amounts to a 200 percent single-supplement fee — but you may be able to find deals by booking early or at the very last minute, according to Amber Blecker, a travel agent who runs Solo Cruise Resource.

Specifically, Princess and Holland America often offer solo cruisers discounts of up to 50 percent off the single-supplement fee for bookings made six or more months ahead, and Celebrity and Royal Caribbean often reduce fees by as much as 25 percent as the cruise’s date of departure nears, Blecker says.

 

Tour package supplements vary significantly, so choose wisely if you want to go guided. Charging solo travelers around 30 percent more is typical, for instance, but some outfitters, such as Gap Adventures and Cosmos, offer price breaks and design itineraries specifically for groups of singles.

 

That trend seems to be growing, according to Diane Redfern, founder of the website Connecting: Solo Travel Network, which lists tours and trips specifically for solo travelers.

 

“When I launched the company in 1990, I knew of just one travel company that catered specifically to singles,” Redfern says. “Now I have upward of 400 tours and cruises listed on my site at any given time.” Check out our sidebar, “Trips for One, for Less,” for more money-saving trip ideas on cruises, tours and accommodations.

 

I absolutely dread going out to eat on my own. Help!

Count yourself in good company. Dining alone may well be solo travelers’ number-one fear, so much so that it even has an official diagnosis: solomangarephobia. In practice, however, it can be a lot easier than you expect.

 

Whitman recommends getting a seat at the bar, rather than at a table, in restaurants. “There are always people to chat with-other solo diners, regulars, even the bartender.” If you’re not feeling talkative, bring along a book or magazine to stay occupied. You could also skip the restaurant scene altogether, by sampling street food or picnicking in a park with items from a farmers’ market.

 

I’m concerned about safety. Anything I can do?

To minimize risks, follow these five practical tips, gathered from experts including Whitman, Schlichter and travel guidebook author Rick Steves.

 

(1) Project strength. Walk purposefully, and show no fear-even if you have to fake it. Pickpockets prey on travelers who look like confused, easy victims. (2) Always remain alert. “It’s those few seconds of inattentiveness when your bag or purse could get snatched,” Whitman says. “Thieves are generally looking for a quick steal, so bring a cable lock to secure your belongings to your seat on trains, and lock the zippers of your bags together so no one can easily open them.” (3) Readjust your schedule. If you feel uncomfortable going out at night, don’t force it. Instead, sightsee during the day, make lunch your biggest meal, and turn in early. “Everyone should avoid walking alone at night,” Schlichter says. “I’ve heard plenty of stories of male travelers who put themselves in bad situations — they made the mistake of assuming they’d always be fine because they’re guys.” (4) Avoid the flirts. Steves has long advised single female travelers to wear fake wedding rings, especially in Mediterranean and Latin countries, where the men tend to pay more attention to women than Americans are typically used to. Getting hit on doesn’t always turn into a safety concern, of course, but a simple gold band could save you some headaches.(5) Follow your gut. If your radar goes off, listen to it — no matter who sets it off. “Women and young children are just as likely to be pickpockets in some European countries — not men with knives,” Whitman points out. “They often get away with it, I think, because people don’t want to be rude to a nice-looking, middle-aged lady holding a baby, even if she’s being pushy.”

 

How can I get some decent vacation shots — with me in them — if I’m alone?

 

If you go the obvious route (asking someone to snap a picture with your camera), you’re not only handing off a pricey piece of electronics to a stranger, you’re also relinquishing control of how the photo turns out.

 

Your best bet is to invest in some new gear, namely the XShot Camera Extender ($30), a metal rod that attaches to your camera, extends up to three feet, and acts as an extra-long arm. Once you master your camera’s timer, you can capture self-portraits that look like someone else took the shot.

 

“I carry it on every trip,” Whitman says. “I put my iPhone in it and take pictures of myself and the friends that I’ve made. The photos are always great because everybody’s laughing when I set up the shot. It’s goofy, but fun.”

 

Now you can be the designated photographer, stay in the picture, and come home armed with frameable souvenirs.

Retaliation Threats For US

May 2nd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security expects “threats of retaliation” from al Qaeda in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, a department official told CNN early Monday.

 

“We certainly anticipate threats of retaliation — this is an organization that declared war on the United States more than a decade ago. Threats from al Qaeda are not a new phenomenon,” the official said.

 

The United States put American diplomatic facilities around the world on high alert and issued a global travel warning for Americans shortly after President Barack Obama announced that the terrorist leader had been killed in Pakistan by U.S. special operations forces.

 

“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations,” the State Department said in a worldwide travel warning issued early Monday.

 

“U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.”

 

The Homeland Security official said the agency remains “at a heightened state of vigilance,” although the national terror-threat level was not immediately raised following bin Laden’s death.

 

“Our security posture, which always includes a number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to protect the American people from an evolving threat picture both in the next days and beyond,” the official said.

 

“Secretary (Janet) Napolitano has been clear since announcing the NTAS (National Terrorism Advisory System) in January that we will only issue alerts when we have specific or credible information to convey to the American public,” the official said.

 

At the U.S. Capitol, “there have been increased foot patrols, exterior building checks and the strategic placement of personnel, all cautionary while the intelligence community measures the possibility of anti-American response,” Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer said via e-mail. “There are no present indications of problems.”

 

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and its consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar were closed Monday to routine business, the embassy said in a statement. The embassy warned U.S. citizens “of the possibility of violent protests and demonstrations in major cities of Pakistan,” specifically near the embassy or consulates, or areas where Westerners are known to congregate.

 

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague ordered his nation’s embassies to review their security, saying this is usual procedure in such situations, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.

 

Interpol, the international police organization, urged law enforcement agencies in its 188 member countries to be on “full alert” for retaliatory acts, Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said.

Local U.S. authorities also took precautions.

 

Washington’s public transit operator, the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, increased the number of uniformed officers patrolling the system, said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

 

And in New York, the Port Authority, which operates the airports and other sites around the city, “has directed its police to increase its presence at all Port Authority facilities, including the World Trade Center site, and to coordinate with local, state and federal law enforcement as required,” Executive Director Chris Ward said in a news release.

 

Both Farbstein and Ward said the steps are precautionary measures and not related to any specific threat.

 

In New York, where al Qaeda used a pair of hijacked commercial jetliners to take down the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, police were wary. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there was no information to indicate a threat to the city, but “members of the service are reminded to remain alert.”

 

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it was increasing police presence at all of its facilities, including the site where the World Trade Center once stood, “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Chris Ward, executive director.

 

The Philadelphia Police Department said it was doing hourly checks on mosques and synagogues.

 

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online jihadist activities, said vague threats were posted on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, the exclusive outlet for official al Qaeda messages.

 

“America will reap the same if the news is true and false,” said one posting on the website. “The lions will remain lions and will continue moving in the footsteps of Osama,” said another.

 

Adding to the concern is a Defense Department report released last week by the WikiLeaks website that a Guantanamo detainee had knowledge of al Qaeda possibly possessing a nuclear bomb somewhere in Europe.

 

The detainee, Abu al-Libi, said he was told by al Qaeda associate Sharif al-Masri that he believed if bin Laden were captured or killed “the bomb would be detonated” in the United States.

 

Al-Libi said al-Masri told him during the summer of 2004 that the terrorist network was having difficulty moving the bomb, but if it could move it “al Qaeda would find operatives to use it.”

How The US Killed Bin Laden

May 2nd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — In the dark of night, U.S. helicopters approached a high-walled compound in Pakistan on a mission to capture or kill one of the world’s most notorious terrorist leaders.

 

Less than 40 minutes later — early Monday morning in Pakistan –

Osama bin Laden was dead, along with four others inside the complex, and the U.S. forces departed with the slain al Qaeda leader’s body to fulfill a vow that originated shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

 

And as he announced the raid at the White House Sunday night, U.S. President Barack Obama called bin Laden’s death “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.”

 

One senior administration official called the investigative “team effort” and a “model of really seamless cooperation” across agencies.

 

This official and others briefed reporters on further details on the assault on the compound, which they believe was built five years ago for the specific purpose of hiding bin Laden.

 

The compound is in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The city sits in a mountainous region of Pakistan and is not heavily populated. Many of the residents are army personnel.

 

While senior administration officials would not offer a breakdown of the U.S. mission’s composition, a senior defense official said U.S. Navy SEALs were involved.

 

After years of intelligence work and months of following a specific lead, they traced a courier linked to bin Laden to the compound in Abbottabad.

 

When first built, the compound was secluded and reachable by only a dirt road, the officials said. In recent years, more residences built up around it, but it remained by far the largest and most heavily secured property in the area, they said.

 

The mission ordered Friday by Obama encountered outer walls up to 18 feet tall topped with barbed wire, with two security gates and a series of internal walls that sectioned off different portions of the compound, the senior administration officials said. The main structure was a three-story building with few windows facing the outside of the compound, and a third-floor terrace had a seven-foot privacy wall, they said.

 

Months of intelligence work determined that the compound was custom-built to hide a high-value terrorism suspect, almost certainly bin Laden. The officials noted there was no telephone or internet service at the dwelling, which was valued at more than $1 million, and its occupants burned their trash rather than leave it out for collection as other area residents did.

 

Calling the U.S. operation a surgical raid, officials said it was conducted by a small team and designed to minimize collateral damage. Upon landing, the team encountered resistance from bin Laden and three other men that resulted in a firefight.

 

In the end, all four of the combatants in the compound were dead, along with a woman whom one of the men used as a human shield, the officials said. Sources said bin Laden was shot in the head.

 

At some point, one of the assaulting helicopters crashed due to a mechanical failure, according to the officials. It was destroyed as the U.S. team flew away, they said.

 

Obama and the senior administration officials said no U.S. forces were

harmed in the operation, which took place very early Monday morning Pakistan time.

 

U.S. officials said they used a number of methods to identify the body as bin Laden.

 

One official said it was clear to the assault force that the body matched bin Laden’s description, but they used “facial recognition work, amongst other things, to confirm the identity.”

 

A senior national security official told CNN that they had multiple confirmations that the body was bin Laden, saying they had the “ability to run images of the body and the face.”

 

Another U.S. official told CNN that bin Laden has already been buried at sea. The official said his body was handled in the Islamic tradition, but did not elaborate.

 

A senior administration official also said bin Laden’s body would be “handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that we take very seriously, and so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.”

 

According to the senior administration officials, intelligence work determined at the beginning of 2011 that bin Laden might be located at the compound in Pakistan. By mid-February, the intelligence was considered strong enough to begin considering action pledged by Obama when bin Laden’s whereabouts had been determined.

 

To discuss that intelligence and develop a plan, Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings from mid-March until late April, with the last two on April 19 and April 28 — last Thursday. The next day, on

Friday, Obama gave the order for the mission, the officials said.

 

The key break involved one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden, according to the officials. About two years ago, intelligence work identified where the courier and his brother lived and operated in Pakistan, and it took until August of last year to find the compound in Abbottabad raided Sunday, they said.

 

“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw — an extraordinarily unique compound,” one senior administration official said. “The compound sits on a large plot of land in an area that was relatively secluded when it was built. It is roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area.”

 

Noting that the courier and his brother had no discernible source of wealth to live at such a property, intelligence analysts concluded the compound was “custom-built to hide someone of extraordinary significance,” the official said, adding: “Everything was consistent with what experts thought Osama bin Laden’s compound would look like.”

 

Another senior administration official told reporters that Obama’s administration did not share intelligence gathered beforehand with any other country — including Pakistan — for security reasons. The official said that only a small group of people inside the U.S government knew about this operation in advance.

 

However, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said members of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, were on site in Abbottabad during the operation. There was no way to immediately resolve the apparent discrepancy.

Bin Laden Buried At Sea

May 2nd, 2011 by Mariah

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

As I watched news reports of the death of Osama bin Laden late Sunday night and into the morning, I worried about one thing: What would be done with his body?

One of the perverse promises of Islamic terrorism is that it can transform ordinary people into martyrs for Allah. So I did not want to see bin Laden’s burial place turned into an Al Qaeda Mecca — a pilgrimage site for Muslim extremists and an assembly line for martyrs to come.

Now comes word that the mastermind behind Al Qaeda has been buried at sea.

U.S. officials said early this morning that bin Laden’s body had been treated in “accordance with Islamic practice.” Islamic practice, however, calls for corpses to be buried as quickly as possible — ideally within hours. And it forbids cremation.

The United States needed some time, of course, to make the case that the corpse they were holding was, in fact, that of bin Laden — to perform an autopsy, perhaps, and to take photos and perhaps videos to show to the world.

Yet it needed to do all this quickly and in a manner that did not turn the Al Qaeda leader into more of a martyr than he has already become.

Burial at sea is an elegant solution to this problem. It is permissible under Islamic law, and it does not provide any one location that followers can turn into a shrine to global terrorism.

Osama Bin Laden Dead!

May 2nd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — The successful U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden sends a message to the Taliban in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.

 

“You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al Qaeda” and participate in a peaceful political process, Clinton said.

 

“There is no better rebuke to al Qaeda and its heinous ideology,” she said. “The fight continues and we will never waver.”

 

Some doubted that the terrorist leader would ever be caught, she said, but “this is America… We persevere, and we get the job done.”

Clinton also noted that bin Laden’s death comes at a time of “great movements toward freedom and democracy.”

 

The operation that killed the founder and leader of al Qaeda was designed to do just that, not to take him alive, a U.S. government official told CNN Monday.

 

DNA matching is under way on samples from his body, the official said. There are photographs of the body with a gunshot wound to the side of the head that shows an individual who is not unrecognizable as bin Laden, the official said.

 

No decision has yet been made on whether to release the photographs and if so, when and how.

 

The mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — the worst terrorist attacks on American soil — was killed by U.S. forces Monday in a mansion in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, U.S. officials said.

 

Four others in the compound also were killed. One of them was bin Laden’s adult son, and another was a woman being used as a shield by a male combatant, the officials said.

 

Bin Laden’s body was later buried at sea, an official said. Many Muslims adhere to the belief that bodies should be buried within one day.

 

The official did not release additional details about the burial, but said it was handled in keeping with Muslim customs.

 

The death of the founder and leader of al Qaeda comes almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The announcement in the United States of bin Laden’s death came on the same date — May 1 — that Adolf Hitler’s death was announced in 1945.

 

Terrorists “almost certainly will attempt to avenge” the death of Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a message sent to agency employees.

 

In an address to the nation Sunday night, U.S. President Barack Obama called bin Laden’s death “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.” Washington is nine hours behind Pakistan.

 

“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Obama said. “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

 

A congressional source familiar with the operation said bin Laden was shot in the head.

 

The killing of bin Laden was the culmination of years of intelligence work and months of following a specific lead, senior U.S. administration officials said.

 

The key break involved one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden, according to the officials. About two years ago, intelligence work

identified where the courier and his brother lived and operated in

Pakistan, and it took until August to find the compound in Abbottabad that was raided, they said.

 

According to the senior administration officials, intelligence work determined at the beginning of 2011 that bin Laden might be located at the compound.

 

Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings from mid-March until late April, with the last two on April 19 and April 28 — last Thursday.

 

On Friday morning — even as he visited Alabama’s tornado-ravaged areas — Obama gave the order for the mission, the officials said.

 

Senior Obama administration officials believe the compound was built five years ago for the specific purpose of hiding bin Laden. U.S. forces carried out several so-called “practice runs” in order to minimize casualties.

 

Footage that aired Monday on CNN affiliate GEO TV showed fire and smoke spewing from the compound where bin Laden was killed.

 

One resident in the city of Lahore said Monday she was stunned to hear bin Laden was in the country.

 

“But was it really him?” the woman said.

 

A senior nationalsecurity official told CNN that officials had multiple confirmations that the body was bin Laden’s, saying they had the “ability to run images of the body and the face.”

 

A resident in Abbottabad, who did not want to be fully identified, said he was wary of making any personal statements or giving his reaction to the news. But he said the house where bin Laden allegedly was killed has been occupied by many people for the past five years.

 

Half a world away, the scene outside the White House was one of pure jubilation.

 

Hundreds reveled through the night, chanting “USA! USA!” Others chanted “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” in reference to the demise of bin Laden. Many also spontaneously sang the national anthem.

In New York, a cheering crowd gathered at ground zero — the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before bin Laden’s terrorist group flew two planes into the buildings on September 11, 2001. Strains of “God Bless America” could be heard intermittently trickling through the crowd.

 

One former New York firefighter — forced to retire due to lung ailments suffered as a result of the dust from ground zero — said he was there to let the 343 firefighters who died in the attacks know “they didn’t die in vain.”

 

“It’s a war that I feel we just won,” he said. “I’m down here to let them know that justice has been served.”

 

Bob Gibson, a retired New York police officer, said the news of bin Laden’s death gave him a sense of “closure.”

 

“I never thought this night would come, that we would capture or kill bin Laden,” he said. “And thank the Lord he has been eliminated.”

 

The news also brought some relief to family members of those killed on 9/11.

 

“This is important news for us, and for the world,” said Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on 9/11. “It cannot ease our pain, or bring back our loved ones. It does bring a measure of comfort that the mastermind of the September 11th tragedy and the face of global terror can no longer spread his evil.”

 

Bin Laden eluded capture for years, once reportedly slipping out of a training camp in Afghanistan just hours before a barrage of U.S. cruise missiles destroyed it.

 

He had been implicated in a series of deadly, high-profile attacks that had grown in their intensity and success during the 1990s. They included a deadly firefight with U.S. soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 224 in August 1998, and a bomb attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in October 2000.

 

In his speech, Obama reiterated that the United States is not fighting Islam.

 

“I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims,” Obama said.

 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, welcomed the death of bin Laden.

 

“As we have stated repeatedly since the 9/11 terror attacks, bin Laden never represented Muslims or Islam. In fact, in addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide,” the statement said.

 

While the death of bin Laden “is a significant victory,” the war on terrorism is not over, said Frances Fragos Townsend, former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush.

 

“We’ve been fighting these fractured cells. We’ve seen the U.S. government, military and intelligence officials deployed around the world,” Townsend said. “By no means are these other cells nearly as dangerous as he is, but we will continue to have to fight in chaotic places.”

 

U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world were placed on high alert following the announcement of bin Laden’s death, a senior U.S. official said, and the U.S. State Department issued a “worldwide caution” for Americans.

 

The travel alert warned of the “enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.” Some fear al Qaeda supporters may try to retaliate against U.S. citizens or U.S. institutions.

 

But for now, many Americans were soaking up the historic moment.

“It’s what the world needed,” said Dustin Swensson, a military veteran of the Iraq war who joined the revelers outside the White House. “(I’ll) always remember where I was when the towers went down, and I’m always going to remember where I am now.”