SALT LAKE CITY — Utah politicians, local military leaders, 9/11 survivors and those who fought in the Middle East hailed the death of Osama bin Laden as justice finally served.
Meantime, a counterterrorism expert says it raises some much larger strategic questions that can't immediately be answered, including whether the United States should expect retribution.
"It's satisfying to see justice play out. It's taken a long time but a major victory for the United States," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "I hope we all pause and give respect to those who lost their lives at his hands. But this is a great moment."
Chaffetz continued, "The United States of America is about justice and this is justice."
President Barack Obama confirmed in a late-night televised statement that American forces carried out the attack that killed bin Laden in Pakistan on Sunday morning and then took possession of his remains.
Margaret Wahlstrom, whose mother-in-law, Mary Alice Wahlstrom, of Kaysville and sister-in-law Carolyn Beug from Los Angeles were aboard the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11, described news of bin Laden's death as "surreal, one of those things I thought would never happen. I thought he had just dug a hole somewhere and hidden himself so well he would never be found."
Her concern is the philosophy bin Laden represented will likely live on. "For most Americans, the idea that his death represents the death of that philosophy is what they hoped for," she said in an interview at her Kaysville home. "But I think for us, I'm not quite sure how influential he was in recent years, and I think other leaders have stepped up and taken over."
Chaffetz agrees that it's too early to celebrate the end of the conflict. "This will still be an ongoing battle," he said. "Nevertheless, this feels good."
"Our nation is built on the principle of liberty and justice for all — and today, justice was finally brought to one of the most ruthless terrorists our world has ever known," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "While the war on terror is not over, we should all rejoice in his death that is a major setback for al-Qaida and its followers."
University of Utah Law professor and counterterrorism expert Amos Guiora said though it was a great operational achievement to get bin Laden, questions about the long-range impact remain.
"Does this mean that al-Qaida is dead?" he said.
Guiora said terrorist attacks in Europe the past five years were carried out by what he refers to as "al-Qaida franchised", meaning they were done by local terrorist organizations, perhaps acting in the spirit of al-Qaida, but not as al-Qaida.
And then there's the question of revenge. Guiora said there's always concern in the aftermath of a hit like this that a terrorist group wants to prove to its public that it’s still around and capable.
"The possibility of a payback … becomes increasingly viable," he said. "I would think this is just the beginning.”
Among the thousands who gathered in front of the White House Sunday night to celebrate the news were BYU student Linnea Farnsworth and her husband, Jeff, who were vacationing in Washington, D.C. They saw the crowd of people gathering at the White House while watching TV.
"We went down there about 11 (p.m.), before President Obama spoke, and the crowd just kept growing and growing. We left close to 2 and there were still people coming," she said.
"The atmosphere — it was very powerful," Farnsworth said. "It was neat to see everyone pulled together, unified in one. Everyone was just very, very excited."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said the world is a better place with bin Laden gone, and he commended men and women in uniform, especially those from Utah, for their bravery and sacrifice.
But he said the country must remain vigilant in the face of possible retribution from terrorists.
“I think there’s no question that we have to be on guard right now. I think if al-Qaida performs as it has in the past, we’ll look for acts of retribution based on the killing of Osama bin Laden and so we do need to be on heightened alert," he said.
Gen. Brian Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, said nothing is likely to change for Utah National Guard soldiers serving or scheduled to serve in Afghanistan.
"This will make almost no difference in the short-term mobilizations and demobilizations," he said. "I see this making very little difference in our planning."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said it's awkward to celebrate anyone's death. "But it is impossible to feel remorse for one who has caused so much pain and needless suffering in the world.
"None of us are better for having experienced bin Laden"s savagery and absolute indifference to human life. The world is better without him."
Utahn and former Marine Mike Chapman served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
“At first it was kind of surreal but now that everything’s kind of set in, the news is just amazing," he said. "It’s something we always knew would happen. He was running out of places to hide. Today was the day we found out we finally got him.”
Chapman said he always believed bin Laden would be found.
“Serving in the military, it was one of the things we hold true to. We have a job to do and this was one of those jobs.”
Chapman was watching TV with a friend when news of bin Laden's death broke.
“It really solidifies some of the reasons we’re over there," Chapman said. "We are doing good work over there and getting jobs done. The American people just need to stand behind us and let us do our job over there.”
Ten-year Army veteran Mike Doxstader just returned last week from his third tour in Iraq.
“It’s good to hear a chapter of our lives is being closed finally," he said.
Doxstader was on an LDS mission in South America on 9/11. He said his mission president called him to tell him his unit was deploying. He had the option to go home, but decided to complete his mission.
“Some of the friends (in the first unit he was in) didn’t come home from that first mission, so the minute I came back to the states, I volunteered to go back to Iraq.”
Sen. Mike Lee called killing bin Laden a "wonderful accomplishment."64 comments on this story
“This sends a message loud and clear to the entire world, that if you attack America, America will not rest until you’re brought to justice," he said. "And that happened today.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also issued a statement late Sunday. "While the United States must remain vigilant, I am pleased to see an end to this chapter of the War on Terror. This is a victory for America, and for freedom and liberty throughout the world."