The Americans here in Rome had already heard the news. "Did you hear about bin Laden?" asked one of my countrymen in the elevator.
"I just saw it on the BBC," I replied.
"About time," he responded, but his smile broadened as he said it. I imagine the reaction is much the same at home -- that U.S. forces should have found the terrorist years ago, but perhaps this is not a bad moment in the United States for some good news.
We had gone almost ten years since September 11 without finding the man who ordered it. Each anniversary of the terrorist attack prompted the same question: Would we ever get Osama bin Laden, or would he die of old age first?
That question has been answered, and the promise that we made in the aftermath of the destruction of the Twin Towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the downing of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Penn. has been fulfilled. Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice.
The details that emerged during the first few hours after President Obama's White House announcement only added to the satisfaction. Bin Laden had hidden himself in Abbottabad, a tourist town described on Wikipedia as a city "well-known throughout Pakistan for its pleasant weather, high standard educational institutions and military establishments." It's located just 30 miles from Islamabad, quite a ways from bin Laden's presumed location in the mountains of Waziristan. He did not meet his end suddenly with a rocket attack on the compound; instead, two dozen or so Navy SEALS dropped from the sky, one of whom shot bin Laden in the head as he tried to fend off the attack. The strike force took his body and left.
Even more gratifying is the manner in which bin Laden was found. The trail began in the detention center of Guantanamo Bay, where the nickname of a trusted courier was first divulged to interrogators. It took two years to find the man's real name, and another eighteen months to establish his patterns. The United States patiently deduced that bin Laden had holed up almost in plain sight near the capital of Pakistan, and then waited for the right moment to strike.
America rightly will celebrate bin Laden's demise. After that, the question will be this: what next? We still need to find Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian who served as bin Laden's lieutenant and who presumably will take command of Al Qaeda now. During the past couple of years, the Qaeda affiliate network of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemini-American cleric has presented more of a danger to the United States than bin Laden, and with the present unrest in Yemen, that danger will only increase.
But even with that said, the targeting and destruction of the world's most-wanted terrorist will have a deep symbolic and operational impact on Al Qaeda. For years, the network could reassure itself with the fact that the Americans hadn't been able to touch the man who professed to be acting for Allah, and who served as their inspiration. His death at the hands of U.S. forces cannot help but to shake that faith, and that may end up being the most powerful blow America could possibly deliver to the radical Islamists who demand world domination.
If we can find and kill Osama bin Laden, we can find and kill the rest of them, too. And now they know it.
The United States has had a bad couple of years, and this won't change the domestic woes we face. Today, though, Americans and our allies around the world can celebrate the delivery of justice in Abbottabad. And we can as a nation thank President George W. Bush, who promised justice and set the wheels in motion for its delivery, as well as President Barack Obama, who followed through and delivered it forcefully and unmistakably.