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Bin Laden corpse pics will be malware, says FBI

Team Six headshot headshots unlikely to appear in email

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This just in from the FBI's department of the bleedin' obvious: if someone emails you with pictures of Osama bin Laden's bullet-riddled corpse*, this is probably an attempt to compromise your computer rather than a public-spirited effort intended to confirm that he really is dead.

According to the FBI announcement, which seems to be pitched very much at the sort of people who would need such advice:

This content could be a virus that could damage your computer. This malicious software, or "malware", can embed itself in computers and spread to users’ contact lists, thereby infecting the systems of associates, friends, and family members. These viruses are often programmed to steal your personally identifiable information.

As of publication the US says it has photos of bin Laden's body, but describes them as "gruesome" – he was apparently shot in the head** – and none have been publicly released.

There are Geneva Convention prohibitions on exhibiting images of dead enemy service personnel; that is, uniformed national troops belonging to a an enemy nation which has also signed the Convention. Such prohibitions would not apply to bin Laden, but nonetheless there would doubtless be criticism for the US should pictures of his body be published. On the other hand, not publishing them appears to be stoking conspiracy theories to the effect that the al-Qaeda mastermind is not actually dead.

Practically speaking, bin Laden had been effectively dead for years: he was almost totally cut off from communication in order to evade US tracking (his villa had no phone or internet connections) and what limited control he could exert was confined to the remnant central al-Qaeda operation, a few scores of fighters lurking deep in the Afghan-Pakistan border mountains.

Nonetheless his death is a terrifically powerful event, both for Americans who have so long sought vengeance for 9/11 and for jihadis worldwide who saw bin Laden as a symbol if not as a useful operational commander. The latter seem about as likely to be convinced that their idol is really dead as diehard Elvis spotters, so the US would be unlikely to convince them by releasing pictures – and malware artists will no doubt continue to exploit the knowledge that such pictures exist.

In an effort to placate Muslim sentiment, the US forces – having recovered bin Laden's body to an aircraft carrier offshore, avoiding any chance that the Pakistanis might demand custody of it – buried it swiftly, as is required by Muslim custom: in this case at sea. This will probably draw more criticism and stoke conspiracy theories further, but (the US planners hope) will result in less anger than would have resulted from keeping the body unburied. ®

Bootnotes

*Just in case you have actually been in a cave since last Friday – as it turns out Mr bin Laden was, in fact, not – the United States finally caught up with the fugitive terrorist kingpin at his capacious villa outside Islamabad at the weekend. He was shot dead at the scene by elite "Tier One" special-forces operatives from the unit known officially as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) or under its former name SEAL Team Six (it was renamed some time back following apparent irregularities with the unit accounts).

Team Six may have been chosen as it has been loosely assigned as the "Tier One" spec-ops cover for Afghanistan while the rival Delta Force (drawing its recruits mainly from the US Army Rangers, while Team Six recruits from the Navy SEAL teams) covers Iraq.

Alternatively Team Six may have been selected on the grounds that, if they are sent in, one can be fairly sure that the target of the operation will wind up dead even if nobody has specified that this should be the case – or indeed, sometimes even if the SEALs have been specifically told not to kill their primary target.

**Rumour suggests that in recent times spec-ops troops have modified their standard oldtime gunfighting tactic of the "double tap", which called for two shots to an enemy's "centre of mass" – ie the lower chest – to be repeated if necessary until the target goes down.

Nowadays, on some operations anyway, the initial central double-tap – which remains the fastest and surest way to incapacitate an enemy – is apparently followed by a headshot as a standard drill. This can be justified tactically as it allows an operative to then move on more swiftly to another target, being sure that his enemy is dead, as compared to continuing with body shots. The difficulty of actually hitting someone in the head – which would probably be too high in the case of an enemy still untouched, active and moving – is reduced to acceptable levels, at least in the case of an intensively trained specwar operative, by the initial double-tap, which incapacitates though it may not kill outright.

Such tactics are also thought to be in use by the British special forces on occasion, including the Special Boat Service (SBS), which left Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah dead in 2007 with two bullets through the body and one through the head in much the same fashion as Team Six seems to have despatched bin Laden.

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