Although there appears to be some room for debate over the burial — as with many issues within the faith — a wide range of Islamic scholars interpreted it as a humiliating disregard for the standard Muslim practice of placing the body in a grave with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca.
Sea burials can be allowed, they said, but only in special cases where the death occurred aboard a ship.
“The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don’t think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration,” said Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical cleric in Lebanon.
A U.S. official said the burial decision was made after concluding that it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains. There was also speculation about worry that a grave site could have become a rallying point for militants.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive national security matters.
President Barack Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial, and the Pentagon later said the body was placed into the waters of the northern Arabian Sea after adhering to traditional Islamic procedures — including washing the corpse — aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
But the Lebanese cleric Mohammed called it a “strategic mistake” that was bound to stoke rage.
In Washington, CIA director Leon Panetta warned that “terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge” the killing of the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Bin Laden is dead,” Panetta wrote in a memo to CIA staff. “Al-Qaida is not.”