Guardian marks 50th birthday of bold, elusive "Scarlet Pimpernel of jihad"

CJ already got to Reuters, but most of the gloating there comes from quotations. Same with the AP, which spent the day mining jihadi bulletin boards for well wishes.

Not al-Guardian, though.

Osama bin Laden marks his 50th birthday today, most likely at a hideout in the tribal lands straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s tempting to imagine the grey-bearded jihadi hunched over a cake with burning candles inside a cave, smiling henchmen gathered behind him.

In reality it’s not likely to be much of a bash. Birthday parties are frowned upon by Wahhabi puritans such as the al-Qaida leader, who consider such celebrations a vulgar western import. But as he passes another milestone he at least has reason to enjoy a quiet smile.

Six years after 9/11, Bin Laden is maddeningly out of reach. Despite the world’s largest manhunt and a $25m bounty he remains at large, the Scarlet Pimpernel of jihad. A powerful myth has swelled around him – the tall, stern-faced Saudi-born militant has become the ghost of the Hindu Kush

There are quotations, too. But not of Afghans; alas, they don’t appreciate a good anti-hero when they see one.

Most Afghans have little time for the man who sparked an invasion of their country in 2001. Nine out of 10 people view him negatively, according to a recent poll. But elsewhere in the Muslim world he is a man to be greatly admired.

“Osama is a hero,” said Kamran Ali, a 23-year-old call centre operator in Islamabad. “Americans have done many bad things against Muslims. Osama stands up to them.” Like many Pakistanis he discounted suggestions that Bin Laden was linked to the World Trade Centre attacks. “There’s no proof of that,” he said.

That sentiment is echoed across the Muslim world, said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. But, he stressed, support for Bin Laden does not equate to a vote for terrorism.

Exit question: Didn’t the Scarlet Pimpernel save lives?