Lawrence Wright: Bin Laden's Death 'Long In Coming'

When writer Lawrence Wright heard the news of Osama bin Laden's death, his immediate reaction was one of relief. "This seemed like something that was so long in coming," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And with all the changes that had been going on in the Arab world right now, real change — in some ways — couldn't come until this moment happened."

For the past 15 years, Wright has spent his career thinking about bin Laden and al-Qaida. He interviewed more than 500 people, including friends and relatives of bin Laden, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road of 9/11 and has written extensively about the terrorist group for The New Yorker.

Wright assesses what bin Laden's death means for the future of al-Qaida and America's relationship with Pakistan. He also explains why — nearly a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — bin Laden remains such an important figure.

"Bin Laden is not irrelevant," he says. "He was important all along. Just the fact that he was able to elude capture or being killed for nearly a decade — or more than a decade, if you go back to the Embassy bombings in 1998 when we first went after him — he's been a symbol of resistance and of the failure of American policy to reach out and stop this kind of terror. It emboldened other imitators all around the globe. So getting bin Laden is immeasurably important."

Wright is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of six books, including Twins: Genes, Environment, and the Mystery of Identity and City Children, Country Summer. He is also the co-writer for the movie The Siege, starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. He is currently working on a script for Ridley Scott.

Interview Highlights

On martyrdom

"He will continue to live as a potent symbol. There's no question that he's going to have an enduring appeal for a number of people — not just perhaps radical Muslims but other groups that will follow the template that al-Qaida created — that's my main concern. Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida, eventually, will die. But the model that al-Qaida has created of an asymmetric terror group that has enormous consequences in the world well beyond the size of the group — that's going to endure. Other groups are going to try and follow that model."

On the role of the Pakistani government

"I was surprised that he was living inside an urban area, but I'm not surprised to learn that he was essentially sheltered by Pakistani intelligence and military units. I do make that assumption. I feel that for years, the Pakistani military and intelligence complex has been in the 'looking for bin Laden' business. He was a priceless asset to them because we poured billions of dollars into their pockets to try to find him. If they found him, they'd be out of business. So he was an irreplaceable asset and I think that Pakistan has a lot to answer for. This looks very incriminating. ... This gives us an opportunity to reassess exactly what our relationship with Pakistan ought to be."

On what bin Laden's capture means for him personally

"This is a burden I'm happy to take off my shoulders. I felt the call — after 9/11 it was like a mission — I felt that I had to address myself to what was, I thought, the most significant challenge we were facing as a country and certainly the biggest story I would have as a reporter. So I was ready to respond to that. But it's been a long time. For me, I started working on this when I was working on the script for The Siege in 1996. So 15 years of my time has ... been devoted to paying attention to people whose solutions for the problems they face in life are so wrong-headed and so damaging to the lives of so many others. I'm eager myself to turn the page." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit