BRUSSELS, Belgium — “We have woken up in a more secure world,” said European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, kicking off a round of positive reactions from European Union leaders to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
But a few blocks away at European Union headquarters, the assessment from Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove was considerably more guarded. While welcoming the news as a step toward decreasing the threat of terrorist attacks in the long term, de Kerchove said, “Maybe the risk increases in the short term because one may expect a retaliation operation.”
He said Al Qaeda overall has been in decline over the last decade because of the constant hammering from U.S.- and NATO-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nonetheless “Osama bin Laden remains a symbol that continues to encourage groups such as Al Qaeda in Yemen or the Maghreb or the individuals we saw in Germany last week” where three men believed to be Al Qaeda operatives were arrested on suspicion of planning a major attack. De Kerchove said police and other security services throughout the EU are on high alert and “even more vigilant than usual.”
A joint statement by Council President Herman van Rompuy and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso reminded that “Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the death of thousands of thousands of innocent people” and asserted it’s “important to show that this kind of action will not remain unpunished.”
“The death of Osama bin Laden makes the world we live in safer, without any doubt,” agreed European Commission Spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen, discussing the statement.
But the method used to hunt down Osama brought plenty of criticism upon those who welcomed the operation. Spokesperson Ahrenkilde-Hansen was peppered with questions about whether this means the EU is no longer against the death penalty or targeted assassinations, whether it changes the EU position even on detention in Guantanamo.
Ahrenkilde-Hansen responded that “this in no way questions the basic principles and values we have always supported. This was not the execution of a death sentence; it was something completely different. We continue to be against the death penalty.”
Quoting from the leaders’ statement, she defined the killing as a “major achievement in our efforts to rid the world of terrorism.”