Usama Bin Laden Killed in Firefight With U.S. Special Ops Team in Pakistan
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead, and the U.S. has his body in its possession, a person familiar with the situation said Sunday.
The development capped a manhunt of more than a decade for the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that left 3,000 people dead and dramatically altered U.S. foreign policy and the nation’s sense of security.
Declaring “justice has been done,” President Obama announced late Sunday that Usama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, marking the end of the worldwide manhunt that began nearly a decade ago on Sept. 11, 2001.
The president made the stunning announcement within hours of informing congressional leaders. He said bin Laden was killed Sunday, the culmination of years of intelligence gathering. The news drew a large crowd to the front of the White House, as well as in Times Square, as people chanted “U-S-A. U-S-A.”
Obama, in his address to the nation shortly before midnight, thanked the Americans who have toiled in pursuit of bin Laden and applauded those who carried out the successful mission in Pakistan. Describing that mission only briefly, he said its result “is a testament to the greatness of our country.”
“For over two decades, bin Laden has been Al Qaeda’s leader and symbol,” Obama said. “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.”
The president traced the death of bin Laden to a tip received last August. He said he was briefed at the time on the “possible lead,” and that after months of intelligence work it was determined bin Laden was hiding in a compound “deep” inside Pakistan. Obama said, after determining the intelligence was sound, he authorized the operation to bring him to justice last week.
He said a “small team” of Americans went after bin Laden in Abbottabad on Sunday. “After a firefight, they killed Usama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” the president said.
Senior administration officials, in a briefing with reporters, afterward said the administration had determined by February that they would pursue the compound “custom built to hide someone of significance” in Pakistan. This decision led to a series of national security meetings starting in March to develop a course of action. Obama gave the final order to pursue the operation on April 29, officials said.
The house was 100 yards from the gate of the Kakul Military Academy, an army-run institution where top officers train. A Pakistan intelligence official said the property where bin Laden was staying was 3,000 square feet.
At 3:30 p.m. EST, a 40-man Navy Seals squadron raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the Al Qaeda leader with a bullet to the head.
Four Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters dropped 24 men on the compound. One helicopter suffered a “hard landing” inside the compound after experiencing a mechanical failure and had to be destroyed on the site, according to one defense official.
There was a large shootout. The residents at the compound resisted. The total raid took 40 minutes.
No Americans were killed in the mission Sunday. Officials said three adult men other than bin Laden were killed – one was believed to be bin Laden’s son, the others couriers. One woman was killed when she was used as a human shield and two other women were also injured, the officials said.
Abbottabad resident Mohammad Haroon Rasheed said the raid happened about 1:15 a.m. local time.
“I heard a thundering sound, followed by heavy firing. Then firing suddenly stopped. Then more thundering, then a big blast,” he said. “In the morning when we went out to see what happened, some helicopter wreckage was lying in an open field.”
“Intelligence analysts concluded that this compound was custom-built to hide someone of significance,” he said.
In the wake of bin Laden’s death, authorities around the world are being urged to take security precautions. One source said officials are concerned bin Laden’s death could incite violence or terrorist acts against U.S. personnel overseas.
The State Department issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens abroad overnight, citing “the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.”
Obama said Americans must continue to be “vigilant.” But he said the death of the architect of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil should be welcomed around the world.
“Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims,” Obama said. “So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
Sources said the vice president informed congressional leaders late Sunday night that the world’s most wanted man had been killed.
Officials said bin Laden’s body, which was in U.S. custody, was given a sea burial.
The announcement comes nearly a decade after the 2001 terror attacks that triggered the Afghanistan war and started a tireless hunt for the terrorist mastermind and Al Qaeda leader.
In recent years, that hunt had increasingly led U.S. intelligence across the border and into Pakistan, where Al Qaeda is thought to be concentrated.
How U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden
In the dark of night, U.S. helicopters approached a high-walled compound in Pakistan on a mission to capture or kill one of the world’s most notorious terrorist leaders.
Less than 40 minutes later — early Monday morning in Pakistan — Osama bin Laden was dead, along with four others inside the complex, and the U.S. forces departed with the slain al Qaeda leader’s body to fulfill a vow that originated shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Speaking from the White House Sunday night, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the successful raid. Senior administration officials provided further details on the assault on the compound they believe was built five years ago for the specific purpose of hiding bin Laden.
The compound is in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The city sits in a mountainous region of Pakistan and is not heavily populated. Many of the residents are army personnel.
While senior administration officials would not offer a breakdown of the U.S. mission’s composition, a senior defense official said U.S. Navy SEALs were involved.
After years of intelligence work and months of following a specific lead, they traced a courier linked to bin Laden to the compound in Abbottabad.
When first built, the compound was secluded and reachable by only a dirt road, the officials said. In recent years, more residences built up around it, but it remained by far the largest and most heavily secured property in the area, they said.
The mission ordered Friday by Obama encountered outer walls up to 18 feet tall topped with barbed wire, with two security gates and a series of internal walls that sectioned off different portions of the compound, the senior administration officials said. The main structure was a three-story building with few windows facing the outside of the compound, and a third-floor terrace had a seven-foot privacy wall, they said.
Months of intelligence work determined that the compound was custom-built to hide a high-value terrorism suspect, almost certainly bin Laden. The officials noted there was no telephone or Internet service at the dwelling, which was valued at more than $1 million, and its occupants burned their trash, rather than leave it out for collection like other area residents.
Calling the U.S. operation a surgical raid, officials said it was conducted by a small team and designed to minimize collateral damage. Upon landing, the team encountered resistance from bin Laden and three other men that resulted in a firefight.
In the end, all four of the combatants in the compound were dead, along with a woman whom one of the men used as a human shield, the officials said. Sources said bin Laden was shot in the head.
At some point, one of the assaulting helicopters crashed due to a mechanical failure, according to the officials. It was destroyed as the U.S. team flew away, they said.
Obama and the senior administration officials said no U.S. forces were harmed in the operation, which took place very early Monday morning Pakistan time.
U.S. officials said they used a number of methods to identify the body as bin Laden.
One official said it was clear to the assault force that the body matched bin Laden’s description, but they used “facial recognition work, amongst other things, to confirm the identity.”
A senior national security official told CNN that they had multiple confirmations that the body was bin Laden, saying they had the “ability to run images of the body and the face.”
Another U.S. official told CNN that bin Laden has already been buried at sea. The official said his body was handled in the Islamic tradition, but did not elaborate.
A senior administration official also said bin Laden’s body would be “handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that we take very seriously, and so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.”
According to the senior administration officials, intelligence work determined at the beginning of 2011 that bin Laden might be located at the compound in Pakistan. By mid-February, the intelligence was considered strong enough to begin considering action pledged by Obama when bin Laden’s whereabouts had been determined.
To discuss that intelligence and develop a plan, Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings from mid-March until late April, with the last two on April 19 and April 28 — last Thursday. The next day, on Friday, Obama gave the order for the mission, the officials said.
The key break involved one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden, according to the officials. About two years ago, intelligence work identified where the courier and his brother lived and operated in Pakistan, and it took until August of last year to find the compound in Abbottabad raided Sunday, they said.
“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw — an extraordinarily unique compound,” one senior administration official said. “The compound sits on a large plot of land in an area that was relatively secluded when it was built. It is roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area.”
Noting that the courier and his brother had no discernible source of wealth to live at such a property, intelligence analysts concluded the compound was “custom-built to hide someone of extraordinary significance,” the official said, adding: “Everything was consistent with what experts thought Osama bin Laden’s compound would look like.”
Another senior administration official told reporters that Obama’s administration did not share intelligence gathered beforehand with any other country — including Pakistan — for security reasons. The official said that only a small group of people inside the U.S government knew about this operation in advance.
However, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said members of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, were on site in Abbottabad during the operation. There was no way to immediately resolve the apparent discrepancy.
Former President George W. Bush:
“A victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg:
“The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands, but it is a critically important victory for our nation. … New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR):
“Bin Laden never represented Muslims or Islam. In fact, in addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide. We also reiterate President Obama’s clear statement tonight that the United States is not at war with Islam.”
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:
“This is … a victory in our continued fight against al Qaeda and radical extremism around the world. We continue to face a complex and evolving terrorist threat, and it is important that we remain vigilant in our efforts.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada:
“This is the most significant victory in our fight against al Qaeda and terrorism, but that fight is not over … As we remember those who were killed on that dark day in September and their families, we also reaffirm our resolve to defeat the terrorist forces that killed them and thousands of others across the globe.”
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton:
“I congratulate the president, the National Security team and the members of our armed forces on bringing Osama bin Laden to justice after more than a decade of murderous al Qaeda attacks.”
Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson:
“Finally. We cut off the head of the snake. It’s our intelligence that got him. The noose has been tightening because of our intelligence operations.”
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Massachusetts:
“(This) closes an important chapter in our war against extremists who kill innocent people around the world. We are a nation of peace and laws, and people everywhere should understand that our 10-year manhunt was in search of justice, not revenge.”
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia:
“Justice has been done. The man with the blood of more than 3,000 (people) on his hands, the man who forced us to begin to think the unthinkable — is now dead. … While this is no doubt a major event in our battle against terrorism, we will not relent in our fight against terror and our efforts to keep America safe and secure.”
U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-New York:
“In 2001, President Bush said ‘we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.’ President Bush deserves great credit for putting action behind those words. President Obama deserves equal credit for his resolve in this long war against al-Qaeda.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
“Justice has been done and we are all indebted to the American military and intelligence community for their skill and dedication. Nothing can bring back bin Laden’s innocent victims, but perhaps this can help salve the wounds of their loved ones.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona:
“The world is a better and more just place now that Osama bin Laden is no longer in it. I hope the families of the victims of the September 11th attacks will sleep easier tonight and every night hence knowing that justice has been done.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee:
“(This) is a credit to our intelligence efforts and brings to justice the architect of the attacks on our country that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.”
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California:
“The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant development in our fight against al Qaeda … It is a testament to the professionalism of our dedicated national security professionals that no American lives were lost in this operation … I hope that today’s action provides some comfort to the 9/11 families who lost loved ones in the devastating attacks on our shores.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York:
“This is a thunderous strike for justice for the thousands of my fellow New Yorkers — and citizens from all over the world — who were murdered on 9/11. It took close to 10 years, but the world’s most wanted terrorist has finally met his deserved fate.”
PAKPAC, a Pakistani-American advocacy group:
“(Bin Laden’s) death is a victory for the civilized world … Now with the Arab awakening, and democracy taking hold in the Middle East, PAKPAC is confident that al Qaeda and its ideology will be relegated to the dust bin of history.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo:
“New Yorkers endured bin Laden’s most devastating and destructive attack, and his death brings back the horrific images and emotions of that terrible day. However, his death also reminds us of our strength, courage, and unity as a people in our response to his actions.”
Former U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff:
“With the World Trade Center still smoldering, America promised to bring Osama bin Laden to justice or justice to him. Tonight’s announcement that bin Laden has been killed brings a tremendous amount of gratification and I hope, great comfort to those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee:
“It is unusual to celebrate a death, but today Americans and decent people the world over cheer the news that madman, murderer and terrorist Osama bin Laden is dead … Welcome to hell, bin Laden. Let us all hope that his demise will serve notice to Islamic radicals the world over that the United States will be relentless is tracking down and terminating those who would inflict terror, mayhem and death on any of our citizens.”
Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney:
“This is a great victory for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere. Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military and the president. My thoughts are with the families of Osama bin Laden’s many thousands of victims, and the brave servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in pursuit of this murderous terrorist.”
Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota:
“Tonight’s news does not bring back the lives of the thousands of innocent people who were killed that day by Osama bin Laden’s horrific plan, and it does not end the threat posed by terrorists, but it is my hope that this is the beginning of the end of Sharia-compliant terrorism.”
Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Sarah Palin:
“Thank you, American men and women in uniform. You are America’s finest and we are so proud. Thank you for fighting against terrorism.”
Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum:
“This is extraordinary news for all freedom loving people of the world, and I commend all those involved for this historic triumph. Americans have waited nearly ten years for the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. And while this is a very significant objective that cannot be minimized, the threat from Jihadism does not die with bin Laden.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate:
“This is terrific news for freedom and justice. In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that America would bring Osama bin Laden to justice — and we did. I want to congratulate America’s armed forces and President Obama for a job well done.”