Barack Obama, the US president, has told an American television channel that he has decided not to release photos showing the body of Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, after he was killed by US commandos.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Obama had consulted members of his national security team before making the decision.
Carney said that in the interview with CBS, Obama had stressed it was important to keep photographic evidence from "floating around as incitement or propaganda tool".
"That is not who we are. We don't trot this stuff out as trophies," Obama was quoted as saying in the interview for the channel's "60 Minutes" programme.
"There is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. You will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again," the president said.
"It is not in our national security interests to allow those images, as has been in the past the case, to become icons to rally opinion against the United States," Carney said.
US officials who have seen the pictures taken of bin Laden's body have described them as "gruesome".
|Reuters said it bought the images of three men killed in the US raid from a Pakistani official [Reuters]
There are fears that if the photos are released they could provoke anger and trigger a backlash against US personnel in the Muslim world.
Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator, said on Wednesday that she had seen one picture showing bin Laden's face and that she believed it confirmed his identity.
Obama's decision comes as the Reuters news agency released photographs it said were taken about an hour after the US assault on bin Laden's compound.
The pictures show three dead men lying in pools of blood, but no weapons.
The photos, said to have been taken by a Pakistani security official who entered the compound after the early morning raid on Monday, show two men dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing and one in a t-shirt.
The official, who wished to remain anonymous, sold the pictures to Reuters, the agency said.
The US attorney general has said that killing bin Laden was an act of national self-defence, countering allegations that the raid by US forces on his Pakistani hide-out was illegal.
Eric Holder said on Wednesday that the al-Qaeda leader was a legitimate military target and that he had made no attempt to surrender to the commandos that stormed his fortified compound.
"It was justified as an act of national self-defence," Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing bin Laden's admission of being involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
|Holder, the US attorney general, said bin Laden's killing 'was justified as an act of national self-defence' [EPA]
It was lawful to target bin Laden because he was the enemy commander in the field, and the operation was conducted in a way that was consistent with US laws and values, he said, adding that it was a "kill or capture mission".
"If he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate," Holder said.
Washington's acknowledgment on Tuesday that bin Laden was unarmed when shot dead had raised accusations that the US had violated international law.
Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent London-based human rights lawyer, said the killing "may well have been a cold-blooded assassination" that risked making bin Laden a martyr.
Pakistan has welcomed bin Laden's death, but its foreign ministry expressed deep concerns about the raid, which it called an "unauthorised unilateral action".
The CIA said it kept Pakistan out of the loop because it feared bin Laden would be tipped off, highlighting the depth of mistrust between the two supposed allies.
Pakistan's prime ministeer blamed worldwide intelligence lapses for a failure to detect bin Laden, while Washington worked to establish whether its ally had sheltered the al-Qaeda leader, which Islamabad vehemently denies.
"There is an intelligence failure of the whole world, not just Pakistan alone," Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Paris.
"[If there are] ... lapses from the Pakistan side, that means there are lapses from the whole world."
Pakistan has come under intense international scrutiny since bin Laden's death, with questions on whether its security agencies were too incompetent to catch him or knew all along where he was hiding, and even whether they were complicit.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn compared the incident with the admission in 2004 that one of the country's top scientists had sold its nuclear secrets.
"Not since Abdul Qadeer Khan confessed to transferring nuclear technology to Iran and Libya has Pakistan suffered such an embarrassment," it said.
The streets around bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad remained sealed off on Wednesday, with police and soldiers allowing only residents to pass through.
"It's a crime, but what choice are you left with if I'm not handing over your enemy who is hiding in my house?" said Hussain Khan, a retired government official living nearby, when asked about the apparent violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.
"Obviously you will go and get him yourself."
A New York Times/CBS News poll showed Obama's approval ratings jumped 11 points to 57 per cent after the operation, though many Americans fear revenge attacks.