WASHINGTON -- Nevada lawmakers who had an inside track on the mission that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden said Monday that Americans cannot afford to become complacent on threats from terrorism.
"The leader of al-Qaida is gone, but his organization is not," Sen. Harry Reid said. "We know our enemy is widespread and motivated, and the truth is, it may be more motivated today than it was yesterday."
Likewise, Rep. Joe Heck said that though U.S. forces killed bin Laden, "there are many others willing to stand up and fill the void."
"Certainly, you have to be concerned about a retaliation from the al-Qaida network," he said.
Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Heck, a Republican subcommittee chairman on the House Intelligence Committee, received a heads-up Sunday night on the success of the special operations mission that resulted in bin Laden's death before it was made public.
Reid said he heard it himself from a "very somber" President Barack Obama.
The news did not come as a complete surprise to Reid. He had known the basics of U.S. intelligence on bin Laden through classified briefings from CIA Director Leon Panetta, including mention of the bin Laden compound that was being scrutinized by U.S. forces.
"I've been following this with Director Panetta for some time now," Reid said Monday as Capitol Hill buzzed with reaction over the culmination of a nearly decade-long hunt for the al-Qaida leader and mastermind of the Sept. 1, 2001, attacks on the United States.
"The president called me and outlined what had taken place," Reid said. "The president was very somber in relating to me what took place."
As Obama spoke, "I had in my mind's eye what I had been briefed on by Panetta in more general terms," Reid said. "This awful man, this man who epitomized evil, has been brought to justice by American forces," Reid said. "His death is our most significant victory in our fight against al-Qaida."
Meanwhile, Heck was in Nevada when he got word via phone on bin Laden's killing shortly before it was made public.
Citing classified elements of the mission, Heck would not say who told him. Nor would he say whether he had been told ahead of time that the CIA was closing in on the al-Qaida leader.
"I was pleasantly surprised that we were successful," Heck said. "I have to give a great deal of credit to the intelligence community who located Osama bin Laden, kept him in their sights and called in an elite military team who executed the mission."
Members of the Intelligence Committee convene each Thursday for a weekly "hot spots" briefing. Heck expects the bin Laden death, and any possible outgrowth from it, will dominate the next session.
Reid, who appeared alongside Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he hopes that al-Qaida will not survive the loss of bin Laden.
"I certainly hope that," he said. But he followed up by saying everyone should be "very cautious with their optimism."
As Reid spoke outside his office about the bin Laden operation conducted by U.S. Navy SEALs, he said he couldn't help but think of Petty Officer 2nd Class Shane Patton, a Navy SEAL and graduate of Boulder City High School who was killed June 28, 2005, in Afghanistan.
Patton, 22, was part of a team that was trying to rescue a fellow SEAL in a firefight when their helicopter was shot down near Asadabad in Kumar province. Eight SEALs were killed.
"I can't get the young Patton boy out of my mind," said Reid, who said he knew the sailor's father and uncle and had attended his funeral.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this story. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.