21 Aug 2014
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Osama and Me

How one journalist achieved closure by writing about the death of the terrorist who tried to kill her.

Osama and Me

On September 14, 2009, American forces killed a man by the name of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a military airstrike in Somalia. It’s a name that probably has little, if any, significance to most people. But for me, it’s a name seared into my brain.

Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was an al-Qaida terrorist, one who learned his trade at the feet of Osama bin Laden. Nabhan was the mastermind behind the attack on the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, on Nov. 28, 2002.

, on that date I was an editor with The Jerusalem Post, on assignment at that hotel, to write a travel piece on an African safari for the paper. But Nabhan had other plans for me, my colleagues and the 200 other Israeli guests at the Paradise Hotel. Within an hour of our arrival, our vacation was blown to smithereens – literally, when three Al Qaida suicide bombers drove a truck into the lobby of the hotel.

Killed in the blast were my tour guide, Albert de Havila, and 11- and 12-year-old Noy and Dvir Anter. The boys’ mother and sister were also severely injured in the blast. Twelve Kenyans were also killed in the attack, including Paradise Hotel staff and children who just minutes before had welcomed us to the hotel singing, dancing and playing drums. Scores of others were wounded.

Almost seven years later, when I heard Nabhan had been killed, those memories came flooding back – the smells, sights and sounds. And I grappled with a slew of emotions. Despite being relieved that he could no longer kill other innocents, it did not lessen the sense of loss and it did not stop me weeping – openly – for those killed in the attack.

Now, hearing that Osama bin Laden has been killed by American forces, I find myself once again crying my heart out for Albert, for Dvir, for Noy, for the 12 Kenyans, for the loved ones of all those who were killed and injured, and for every single person who lived through that horrific ordeal.

And I’m also grappling with the death of a man who changed the landscape of my life. Much as we all like to talk about "closure," Osama bin Laden's death does not change what we lived through or how we must learn to live with its aftermath.

I’m also going out on a limb here and guessing that many people who lost loved ones in 9/11 are also grappling; are also reliving those terrible memories of when their lives were irrevocably changed.

When Nabhad was killed and my emotions were in total turmoil, I was on the phone, in tears, to my brother. My brother’s response to Nabhad’s death? “Toast his burning carcass!”

Part of me definitely wants to raise a glass and toast bin Laden’s burning carcass, but it’s difficult for me to dance on the grave of a man who danced on the graves of so many innocents.

What I do know is that I am grateful. Grateful to have survived this man’s murderous designs, and even more grateful that thanks to the American military and government he is no longer around to perpetrate further evil.

I'm also struck by the enormity of the fact that I can sit here tonight and write about the killing of a man who tried to kill me. If that is "closure," then I'll take it.

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