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Cautious optimism from Queens reps

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The borough’s elected officials said the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in which 76 firefighters from Queens were killed, was a tremendous achievement but cautioned that the killing does not mean the country no longer has to worry about terrorism.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was told of the operation that killed bin Laden about one hour before President Barack Obama addressed the nation late Sunday night.

Although members of Congress are privy to sensitive intelligence on occasion, Meeks said he and his colleagues were not briefed on the operation or that the administration had bin Laden in its sights.

“I think this was at the upper-most levels of intelligence, as it should have been,” he said. “We knew that it was a focus of the president, but the specifics — where in Pakistan? — of course not. That was top secret. But we knew that they were hunting him down.”

With bin Laden identified as the FBI’s most wanted man since 2001, Meeks said the operation, which was carried out early Monday morning in Pakistan — Sunday afternoon Eastern Standard Time — should make those who plot against America think again.

“I think it sent the message to terrorists: It may take us a year, it may take us five years, it may take us 10 years, but we’re going to get you,” Meeks said.

But the congressman said bin Laden’s killing does not mean America will stop its counter-terrorism activities.

“This does not end the war on terror,” Meeks said.

His colleague, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), who also sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed.

“The head of the al-Qaeda worm has been cut off,” Ackerman said. “But we must remember, worms grow new heads.”

Ackerman called the operation that killed bin Laden “a huge victory for the United States and proof that no matter how hard they try, our foes cannot hide from us.”

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), whose firefighter cousin, John Moran, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, said the killing of bin Laden reminded him of those who lost their lives Sept. 11.

Queens had 76 firefighters who were killed in the attacks — about 22 percent of the total number of firefighters who died responding to the terror attack.

“In particular, my thoughts are with the families from New York and across America who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001. There is no doubt the world is a safer place without bin Laden, but our efforts to eradicate the threat of terror will continue without pause and on behalf of everyone who has been killed or injured as a result of senseless terror and violence.”

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) also had a family member who died Sept. 11; his cousin, FDNY Lt. Vincent Halloran, perished when the Twin Towers fell.

“Today I will remember him and the many other victims of Osama bin Laden’s violence,” Halloran said. “The families of the victims can finally enjoy some degree of closure.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 10:40 am, October 12, 2011
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