The problem with including real people in your novel

It took a year to write my first novel, In the Name of Peace. Then another year to work with editors to improve the manuscript, lay it out, create the cover and supporting marketing materials, then finally list if for preorder. With all that work behind me, I began to promote the novel in preparation for a September 1st launch date, when CNN delivered a stunning piece of news: Hamza bin Ladin was dead!

Yes, it was true. Maybe…

When I decided two years ago to make him a background character in the novel, I recognized that it was a risk. Given who he was (is?), clearly he lived in danger every day. In the novel his death was a precipitating event. So when the headlines came in late July and early August, I wondered if I should replace him with a made up terrorist mastermind.

As I read news story after news story I was struck by the lack of detail behind his death. No exact date. No location or description of how he died. I rationalized that the government didn’t want to divulge sources and methods. That was possible. However, I came across the following article on Vox.

Article by Jennifer Williams

The main point made is that doubt persists because there was no confirmation of his death from Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jennifer Williams, the journalist that wrote the article, provides several other examples in the recent past where claims that a terrorist had been eliminated proved to be false. So is Hamza bin Ladin dead? Who knows.

I elected to leave my novel as originally written, largely because I felt that the storyline worked. The novel is, after all, a work of fiction. The remaining question… is that also true of Hamza bin Ladin’s death?