CAIRO — Hundreds of Egyptians chanting for revenge marched Friday to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to protest the killing of Osama bin Laden, whose death al Qaida finally acknowledged in a statement that offered the Muslim world congratulations "for the martyrdom of its grateful son, Osama."
The al Qaida statement, which couldn't be independently verified, spread quickly among militant websites Friday. Dated Tuesday, the message mourns bin Laden as a hero, mocks U.S. forces for killing him off the battlefield, and encourages Pakistanis and other Muslims to rise up and continue his example of violent jihad.
"Sheikh Osama did not build an organization that will die with his death or disappear with his disappearance," the statement said, warning of revenge attacks.
In Pakistan, about 1,500 people took to the streets to protest bin Laden's killing, chanting anti-American slogans and burning the U.S. flag, according to videos posted online. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden early Monday in a covert operation in the military retirement community of Abbottabad, Pakistan.
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The Pakistani government, under international scrutiny for its failure to find bin Laden in a town so close to the country's capital, arrested 40 people in Abbottabad for suspected links to the terrorist leader.
Bin Laden leaves a mixed legacy in the Arab world, where few mourned his death publicly, even if many privately agreed with the general al Qaida message — if not the murderous tactics — against American and other Western involvement in the region.
To a large extent, the Arab Spring uprisings have sidelined al Qaida, proving that peaceful protests can be more effective than bombings to force changes from repressive regimes. Al Qaida leaders vowed early on to fight the authoritarian leaders of Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies, but they had little success.
The al Qaida statement on bin Laden's death said that a message he'd recorded the week before he was killed would be broadcast soon. The message, as it was described in the statement, links the Arab uprisings to bin Laden's own version of jihad.
"The sheikh refused to leave this world before sharing with his Muslim nation the happiness of its revolutions in the face of injustice and tyrants," the statement said.
Protesters across the Arab world have stressed that their revolts aren't Islamist in nature but aimed at universal goals of elected rulers, economic improvements, an end to corruption and greater freedom of speech.
In Egypt, the birthplace of bin Laden's presumed successor, al Qaida commander Ayman al Zawahiri, about 400 members of the ultraconservative Salafi branch of Islam prayed for bin Laden at a mosque they'd seized last month from more moderate leadership.
At the entrance of the Nour Mosque in central Cairo, a modified Egyptian flag was stuck to a wall. Islamic verses had replaced the eagle symbol of the Egyptian republic.
Men poured out of the mosque after Friday prayers, railing loudly against "despicable" President Barack Obama and vowing to avenge the death of "the martyred hero," bin Laden. They marched toward the U.S. Embassy, but columns of Egyptian security forces kept them back from the premises.
"If the Americans are saying that Osama bin Laden was a terrorist for bombings and attacks, then we should also consider the Americans terrorists for their continued support for Israel and their invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan," said Ahmed Samir, 23, an engineer who joined the demonstration. "Even before bin Laden, they were attacking Sudan, Somalia and other Muslim countries."
The number of protesters was minuscule compared with Egypt's population of about 85 million. Some passers-by were outraged by their fellow Egyptians' support for bin Laden and got into shouting matches with the Salafis.
"How are they praying for the soul of a terrorist?" yelled an Egyptian man who confronted the group.
The pro-bin Laden crowd drowned him out, chanting, "Osama, rest, rest, we'll continue the struggle. Be glad, and wait for us at the gates of heaven."
Particularly telling was the muted reaction to bin Laden's death in Yemen, where al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has emerged as the most active and dangerous branch of the network, according to political analysts who study the group. Bin Laden's father was born in Yemen and later moved the family to Saudi Arabia.
Among the thousands of protesters camped out in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, the heart of a three-month-old revolt against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, there were no signs of grieving for bin Laden, and reports of only small commemorations in other parts of the country.
A cleric who addressed the protesters in Sanaa delivered parts of the traditional Friday sermon in English, apparently to convince a nervous Western audience that the ouster of U.S.-allied Saleh wouldn't lead to an increase in terrorism. Without mentioning bin Laden by name, the cleric repeatedly condemned terrorism.
"There are a few people in Yemen who see bin Laden as a symbol; we cannot deny that," said Adel el Sharaby, a prominent Yemeni youth activist. "However, even they will choose a real revolution over a symbolic leader."
(McClatchy special correspondents Adam Michael Baron in Sanaa, Yemen, Saeed Shah in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and Mohannad Sabry in Cairo contributed to this report.)
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