World and Nation

Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea aimed to prevent a shrine on land

White House officials decided before Sunday night’s firefight in northern Pakistan that if U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden, they would bury him at sea in order to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine for his followers, a White House official said Monday. They planned to include all rites associated with Muslim burials, the official added.

U.S. officials stressed Monday that the sea burial followed Islamic custom. “The disposal of — the burial of bin Laden’s remains was done in strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices,” said John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, who added the administration had consulted with Islamic experts.

“It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements,” he said. “We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strict conformance. So it was taken care of in the appropriate way.”

But some Islamic scholars and clerics were divided Monday over whether the sea burial was appropriate or an insult to Muslims. Several said bin Laden should have been buried on land in a simple grave. The sea burial, off a U.S. aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea, added an ambiguous coda to a life that had been clouded in secrecy over the past decade.

According to a senior U.S. intelligence official, after members of the Navy SEALs killed the man they believed to be bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan on Sunday, CIA agents compared DNA samples with the profiles of several family members to confirm his identity, finding a “virtually 100 percent” match.

One of Bin Laden’s wives who was living in the compound identified the body, the official added. CIA specialists also compared photographs of the body with known photographs of bin Laden. Brennan said the various forms of identification created “a growing sense of confidence and a growing sense of accomplishment.”

“There wasn’t one ‘aha’ when people say, you know, OK, the DNA results came in,” he said. “No, this is something that was building over time, and we made a decision then last night, because we felt as though we were confident enough to go out to the American people and out to the world, to say we got him.”

Brennan added that the administration had not yet decided whether to release photographs of the body. The indecision over whether to release the photographs reflected the administration’s desire to end speculation about whether the man killed was really bin Laden — and its fears that the pictures would inflame and rally jihadis.