New Yorkers' mixed reactions to Osama's death

While thousands celebrated the killing of al-Qaeda leader, some said the news brought them little satisfaction.

    Some who took part in the candlelight vigil said they did not know how they felt about news of Osama's death [AFP]

    New York -- Eileen Zott is one of thousands of New Yorkers who lost family because of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but the news of his death brought little satisfaction for her.

    Zott and her husband attended a candlelight vigil on Long Island on Monday night to pay tribute to her cousin, Louis Modafferi, a New York firefighter who was killed on September 11. Both seemed unsure about how to respond to bin Laden’s death 24 hours earlier during a US raid in Pakistan.

    "I don't know how I feel about this," she said. "I'm a Christian, and killing isn't part of my beliefs. It doesn't bring anyone back."

    Her ambivalence about bin Laden's death was a stark contrast to the mood at Ground Zero, the site of the attacks in Lower Manhattan. The crowd had dwindled by Monday afternoon - hundreds of people, compared to thousands on Sunday night, when the news was announced - but people were still celebratory, almost joyful. Smiling tourists snapped photos of the site where the World Trade Centre once stood. Construction workers exchanged high-fives and talked about the raid that killed bin Laden.

    One man climbed a streetlight and held up a sign that read: "Obama 1, Osama 0."

    Media outlets and politicians in New York took a similar approach. "ROT IN HELL" was the banner headline on the front page of the New York Daily News; Chuck Schumer, New York's senior senator, was photographed holding the newspaper with a smile on his face. (The New York Post opted for the comparatively tame "GOT HIM!" as a headline.)

    But Zott’s attitude seems more representative of the views of many New Yorkers, at least who lost friends and family on September 11. In dozens of interviews across New York on Monday, most people - those were personally affected by the tragedy - said bin Laden's death dredged up painful memories. Few used the word "closure".

    "I'm glad he's off the streets. I'm glad he can't plan any more attacks," one woman said. "But I can't celebrate this."

    'It's partial closure'

    East Meadow, a middle-class suburb on Long Island, is home to Nassau County's September 11 memorial, the centrepiece of which is 10 granite plaques bearing the names of the 344 county residents killed in the attacks. Two aluminum towers, evoking the Twin Towers, stand over a reflecting pool next to the plaques.

    More than 100 people attended the vigil there on Monday night. They stood in small groups with family, some of them weeping, others laying flowers and hanging signs in honour of their loved ones. A Marine colour guard stood at attention while the crowd sang "God Bless America".

    The mood was somber, with many residents saying they needed more time to digest the news. Zott's husband John said he wasn't sure how he felt about bin Laden's death.

    "It's a lot to process. It's all so sudden," he said. "We were watching Celebrity Apprentice, and suddenly the president was speaking ... it's not closure. And it drags up all these memories."

    Ed Mangano, the Nassau County executive, said the vigil would be a "respectful location where we can grieve". Most of the attendees did exactly that: They lit candles, cried and reflected on their losses.

    "It's partial closure, but it's never complete," said Lisa Fleming, a nurse from Nassau County who brought her two young children to the vigil. "I lost friends, lots of close friends ... and [this] will never bring those people back."

    There was no sympathy for bin Laden, of course, despite the ambivalent reactions to his death. "If anything, he got off too easy," one woman said, a common sentiment in conversations across New York.

    But many residents, rather than celebrating his death, opted to reflect on how bin Laden - and his actions - impacted myriad lives in the New York area. Fleming told me about a friend whose son joined the Marines after September 11; he was killed in combat in Iraq. Another woman talked about her brother, a police officer, who now suffers chronic respiratory problems because of dust he inhaled in Lower Manhattan.

    There was scattered talk about a possible retaliatory attack, though few people seemed concerned. US officials say they have not received intelligence about any specific threats since bin Laden's death.

    Robert Hopper, an East Meadow resident who attended the vigil with his brother, said he worried that bin Laden's death would not stop militant groups from targeting New York.

    "You get rid of him, it'll be someone else," Hopper said. "You can't just kill one person. You need to get rid of the underlying problems."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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