In the 24 hours since President Barack Obama announced that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was dead, many Marylanders have openly celebrated. Meanwhile, security experts and military members say they do not believe bin Laden's death is the last word in the war on terror.
At the University of Maryland in on Sunday, students celebrated the news around a bonfire wearing nothing but American flags. “We have to get naked because that’s what Osama wouldn’t have wanted,” said one reveler.
“It is good to see the tide turn,” said Samantha Paizs on Monday in . “I’ve got a lot of friends over there, and people were getting discouraged about when they would be able to come home. Now we’re one step closer.”
While some , others are bracing for what is to come.
“The chief of counterterrorism and national security said essentially that al-Qaida was old news,” said Bruce deGrazia, J.D., professor of Homeland Security at . “Almost certainly, there are going to be people who will want to make a violent statement that’s not true,” he added.
“Just because bin Laden is dead doesn’t mean the threat goes away,” said deGrazia, who co-founded the Homeland Security Industries Association, an information exchange between companies and the government based in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. State Department issued a warning on Sunday to Americans abroad that “in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence, [citizens] are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.”
At the heart of the volatility is bin Laden’s symbolism to both the U.S. and al-Qaida, said deGrazia. For the U.S., he said, bin Laden embodied what the military sought to eliminate; for al-Qaida, he was a symbol of the struggle on which they built their organization.
“I expect that somebody is going to try to make an attack because they want to say ‘You can’t get away with what you just did’—for the symbolism of it,” deGrazia said.
Soldiers say they know all too well that the battle is not yet won.
“We may have come a long way since I was handing out matchbooks bearing bin Laden’s face to fishermen, but his death does not signify any type of endgame,” said , who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Since no one can say what the end will look like, a single act is as tough to place as anything more than another thread in a web, rather than a definitive point on a timeline.”
At the time of this article’s publication, the web holds no official alerts from the Department of Homeland Security.
Transportation officials report they are remaining vigilant throughout Maryland.
“In the days ahead, there may be some things that the public sees and other things that they will not see—more uniformed patrols but also more undercover patrols,” said Jack Cahalan, spokesman for Maryland Department of Transportation.
“The most important message to the public is that everyone plays a role in the security of Maryland’s transportation system. If you see something, say something,” reminded Cahalan.
Meanwhile, deGrazia warned that people should be aware of situations that look suspicious, like “large groups of people who shouldn’t be where they are” and “people taking photographs of transit systems.”
The Howard County Police Department issued a statement Monday advising residents who saw anything suspicious to call 800-492-TIPS.