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Tue 3 May 2011 08:33 PM

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Saudi clerics question bin Laden sea burial

Clerics dismiss Washington's assertions that burial of al Qaeda leader observed Islamic rites

Saudi clerics question bin Laden sea burial
A file image grab taken from a video released by Al-Qaeda media wing As-Sahab 07 September 2007 shows Osama Bin Laden. (AFP/Getty Images)

Clerics in Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally and the country of Osama bin Laden's birth, dismissed Washington's assertions it observed Islamic rites in disposing of the al Qaeda leader's body in the Arabian Sea.

Bin Laden, shot dead by US forces in a raid on a compound in Pakistan on Monday, was placed in a weighted bag and dropped into the north Arabian Sea from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, the US military said.

But many Muslims in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf Arab region, including opponents to bin Laden's militant ideology, said the fact funeral rites were read for him did not diminish their shock at the way his body was disposed of.

"That is not the Islamic way. The Islamic way is to bury the person in land like all other people," said Saudi Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, an adviser to the Saudi Royal Court.

In the past if a person died on ship and could not be buried on land for days, "then they would drop him into the sea with a weight," he said. "Today the case is different. We have airplanes, freezers, and it is not necessary to get rid of the body in the sea in such a way."

Bin Laden did not die at sea. His body was flown out to the ship after he was shot dead in Abbottabad, near Islamabad.

Washington said bin Laden's body was treated with respect. He was reported to have been washed and covered in a white shroud in burial preparations that lasted nearly an hour, and religious remarks were recited before his body went underwater.

Issa al-Ghaith, a Saudi cleric and judge, said he believed Washington had made a mistake by burying bin Laden at sea, which he said was un-Islamic, adding it showed Americans "fear him even after his death."

In Yemen, the 54-year-old militant leader's ancestral homeland that is home to an active al Qaeda arm, critics said bin Laden's body should have been turned over to his family.

"It is not enough to do prayers over bin Laden so as to lessen the anger of his supporters or even ordinary Muslims," said Mohammed al-Ahmedi, a Yemeni journalist.

Washington said a sea burial was best because of time constraints, contending that transferring bin Laden's body to another country for interment could have taken too long and noting that Islamic tradition prefers a quick burial.

In reality, it was unlikely that Saudi Arabia would have allowed a burial on its soil, analysts say. His family, which became rich from the Saudi construction boom, has disowned him, and he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994.

Saudi Arabia, which was subject to a 2003-2006 al Qaeda attack wave before the campaign was quashed, said on Tuesday that "an evil has ended" with bin Laden's death, calling him an evil to himself, his family and Arab states.

Analysts said Washington may have also wanted to avoid any chance of having a known burial spot where sympathisers could visit and perhaps draw inspiration for future attacks.

"For them it is justified politically and psychologically. Because they dont want him to have a shrine," said Mustafa Alani, security analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

"I think it is going to be an issue the way they handled the body for a good number of Muslims," said Alani.

But others supported the US decision on his burial.

"If there were a body, too much fuss would be made out of making a martyr of him and people would try to find him, or go to his funeral," said Aya Abdullah, a Saudi in her mid-twenties.

Mustafa 8 years ago

How about the hundreds of people murdered at the World Trade Center whose bodies were disintegrated, not leaving behind even a tooth? Bin Laden was lucky to have any burial at all.

Billy 8 years ago

Mustafa well said. This enemy of the human race was treated far better than he deserved. More attention should be focused on all the thousands of innocent lives he snuffed out rather than whether or not dumping him in the sea was Islamic. He did not show his victims even a fraction of such a concern.

Aysha 8 years ago

I can't understand why the US was keen on treating the body with respect. We are talking about the most wanted terrorist here!

Amina M. 8 years ago

Bury him on land or bury him in the sea, for some extremists he is buried in their hearts. I wish there was something we could do to eradicate the fear in people this man has created or the so called idea of Islamic terrorism.

sadik 8 years ago

mr Mustafa how about millions of iraqis and afgan's killed by US bombings not leaving behind even a tooth?

Doug 8 years ago

Well, without bin Laden, the US wouldn't have invaded Iraq or Afghanistan. So logically, those 'millions' of Iraqis and Afghans had their right to a proper burial denied by bin Laden.

sanam 8 years ago

what about the bodies which left no attention in afgan, iraq war ,still people die in palastine with no justice.

till now its not sure that he is one who behind the us attack, what happened to IRAQ , with no proper reason thousands of innocent people have been killed, later US realised that it was mistake.

Musso 8 years ago

They should have taken his body to Ground Zero and bury him there.

Hush 8 years ago

Showing respect to the dead, even those who are your worst enemies, is a sign of true class. I really respect Obama for handling this the way he has.

Whether it was Sharia compliant or not, the effort was made. It is far more compassion than some of the leaders in the MENA region have shown to their own people in the last few months.

Obama has poured water over the flames that would have risen by handling this the way he has. Obama has also made sure the moderates, which are the majority of the muslim world, stay moderate, and are in no way able to sympathise with Osama.

I dread to imagine what Bush would have done.

muhammad 8 years ago

Yes you are right. Total disintegration of the bodies not even a tooth , yet the passports of the hijackers managed to survive. Good quality paper I assume.