Osama bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, was killed in a firefight with elite US forces yesterday, then quickly buried at sea in a stunning finale to a furtive decade on the run.
Long believed to be hiding in caves, bin Laden was tracked down in a costly, custom-built hideout not far from a Pakistani military academy. The stunning news of his death prompted relief and euphoria outside the White House and around the globe, yet also fears of terrorist reprisals against the US and its allies.
“Justice has been done,” US President Barack Obama said in a dramatic announcement at the White House.
The military operation took mere minutes and there were no US casualties.
US helicopters ferried troops from US Navy SEAL Team Six, a top military counterterrorism unit, into the compound identified by the CIA as bin Laden’s hideout and back out again in less than 40 minutes. Bin Laden was shot in the head, officials said, after he and his bodyguards resisted the assault.
Three adult males were also killed in the raid, including one of bin Laden’s sons, whom officials did not name. One of bin Laden’s sons, Hamza, is a senior member of al-Qaeda.
US officials also said one woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant and two other women were injured.
The US official who disclosed the burial at sea said it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains. Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial.
The death of the 54-year-old bin Laden marks a psychological triumph in a long struggle that began well before the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Qaeda was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa that killed 231 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots — some successful and some foiled.
Moments after Obama’s dramatic late-night announcement on Sunday in Washington, the US Department of State warned of the heightened possibility for anti-US violence.
In a worldwide travel alert, the department said there was an “enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counterterrorism activity in Pakistan.”
The few fiery minutes in Abbottabad, Pakistan, followed years in which US officials struggled to piece together clues that ultimately led to bin Laden, according to an account provided by senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.
Based on statements given by US detainees since the Sept. 11 attacks, they said, intelligence officials have long known that bin Laden trusted one al-Qaeda courier in particular and they believed he might be living with him in hiding.
Four years ago, the US learned the man’s identity, which officials did not disclose, and then about two years later, they identified areas of Pakistan where he operated. In August last year, the man’s residence was found, officials said.
By mid-February, intelligence from multiple sources was clear enough that Obama wanted to “pursue an aggressive course of action,” a senior administration official said.
Over the next two-and-a-half months, the president led five meetings of the National Security Council focused solely on whether bin Laden was in that compound and, if so, how to get him, the official said.