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Half of Londoners sceptical that Bin Laden is dead

Demos has exposed high levels of scepticism amongst Londoners following the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces in Pakistan last week. Overall, just half of those surveyed thought he was dead, with almost 1 in 4 thinking that he is not dead and the same number being ‘not sure’ that he is dead.

The Demos survey found that Londoners felt the death of Bin Laden would have a negative effect on their safety:

•    28% feel less safe using public transport since his death
•    54% of Londoners think there will be an increased risk of terrorism for at least the next 6 months
•    Only 2 in 5 do not think that the risk of terrorism will increase in the long term

Londoners are split over whether killing Osama Bin Laden was ‘the right thing’ with 2 in 5 (39 per cent) supporting the killing and 1 in 3 (35 per cent) thinking it was not the right thing to do.  One in four are unsure.  Men were more likely than women to think killing Osama Bin Laden was the right thing to do.


Jonathan Birdwell, a terrorism expert at Demos said:

“Osama Bin Laden’s death may represent a symbolic victory, but it’s clear that Londoners don’t feel any safer. Police and security services must remain vigilant and reassure the public about a revenge attack.  While most Londoners believe that Bin Laden's death is a step in the right direction, they are not convinced that it is the death knell of Al Qaeda inspired terrorism."

Jamie Bartlett, an expert on conspiracy theories at Demos said:

“Osama Bin Laden could join the ranks of Elvis and Tupac, with numerous conspiracy theories spinning off this high level of doubt around his death.

“It’s not just a fringe of conspiracy theorists that question whether Bin Laden has been killed, as President Obama has suggested. The fact that half of all Londoners doubt whether Bin Laden is dead must be taken seriously.

“Conspiracy theories slowly chip away at the trust we have in our counter-terrorism work.
To counter this doubt, the US Government must release more evidence and should give DNA samples to medical experts for independent public verification.”


Notes to editors

Demos polled a weighted sample of 108 people from the greater London area between 4-5th May 2011.

Participants were recruited against tight quotas for ethnicity and gender. All participants completed a semi-structured interview consisting of 5 closed and 2 open questions. These were clustered around two broad research themes – the presentation of Bin Laden’s death and its impact on the risk of terrorism. Questions were selected following discussion between academic experts and members of the Demos team, and were validated and revised following a pilot run prior to the main study.

Quantitative analysis was conducted using simple descriptive statistics, while qualitative data analysis employed a reflexive coding process, with participants coded against both a priori and emergent themes. Consideration was made of the interrelationships between these themes and the quantitative data; additional qualitative data outside of the answers to specific questions were considered in the analysis stage as indicative of broader participant ‘sentiment’, and have been used to provide further illumination of the quantitative results.

This survey is part of Demos’ ongoing research under the Violence and Extremism Programme. The Power of Unreason, a report on conspiracy theories, extremism and counter-terrorism can downloaded from:

Experts are available for comment and interview.


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