RIYADH (Reuters) - The killing of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden removed a source of shame for some in the country of his birth but for others the al Qaeda leader was a hero who stood up for Islam against the West.
Bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan on Monday, ending a nearly 10-year worldwide manhunt for the leader of the global Islamist militant network that orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and the world’s top oil exporter, said it hopes his killing will help the global fight against terrorism and stamp out the “misguided thought” behind it. Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
“I was relieved the second I heard about his death,” said one young Saudi man in his 20s. “I feel that his actions affected my life and other Saudi youth directly. We have been categorized as terrorists just because we are Saudi.”
“I had some incidents in airports and customs, making it difficult for me to travel. I hope that his death will close the chapter of terrorism in the world and that will end the racial profiling that happened,” said the man who did not want to be named.
Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia in 1957. Convinced that Muslims are victims of what he called U.S.-led terrorism, bin Laden is blamed for masterminding a series of attacks on U.S. targets in Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s. His family, which became rich from the Saudi construction boom, disowned him, and he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994.
Other Saudis said they held bin Laden in high regard.
”He portrayed Muslims in a good and strong way. He opened the eyes of the people to Islam and frightened the foreigners, said one Saudi, dressed in a traditional white robe.
“This gives the impression that life is not everything, and he is the person that left worldly riches for jihad.”
Another Saudi, Nawwaf al-Ahmady, 3O, said of the killing: “I don’t think it is justice. How many did they kill to get bin Laden? This is politics.”
Riyadh said the Saudi people had been among those “most targeted” by the militant network. Al Qaeda militants carried out attacks against Western targets, government symbols and oil facilities between 2003 and 2006 in the kingdom, home to two of Islam’s holiest shrines, before their campaign was quashed.
“The damage bin Laden had caused Islam is beyond appalling and a collective shame,” Saudi blogger Mahmoud Sabbagh said on Twitter.
Al Qaeda later regrouped to form a regional wing based in Yemen that says it wants to topple the ruling Al Saud family.
In 2009, a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant tried but failed to assassinate Saudi’s top anti-terror official, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The following year, a plot to send two parcel bombs from Yemen to the United States was foiled after a tip off from Saudi Arabia.
Several Saudis, like 50-year-old Rajab Zahrani, had trouble believing that bin Laden was dead, saying that they suspected it could be a ploy to boost U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of elections in 2012.
“If he did die then that is a good thing for Islam and Muslims because Islam is not really the way he portrayed it, the violence, bombings,” Zahrani said. “His actions has caused us Saudis a lot of problems.”
But he said he felt sympathy for bin Laden’s large, wealthy Saudi extended family: “They have all our love and appreciation. They have done a lot of good for the country and his brothers are all good-doers.”
Writing by Cynthia Johnston