US forces finally found al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden not in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan’s border, but in a million-dollar compound in an upscale summer resort a little more than an hour’s drive from Pakistan’s capital, with his youngest wife, US officials said early yesterday.
An elite Navy Seals team conducted a helicopter raid on the compound, officials said. After 40 minutes of fighting, bin Laden and an adult son, one unidentified woman and two men — identified as the courier and his brother — were dead, officials said.
The Seals team was under orders to kill not capture bin Laden, a senior US security official said.
“This was a kill operation,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A source familiar with the operation said bin Laden was shot in the head in a firefight after he resisted the assault force.
US forces were led to the -fortress-like three-story building after more than four years tracking one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers, whom US officials said was identified by men captured after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al-Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden,” a senior US administration official said in a briefing for reporters.
Bin Laden was finally found — more than nine-and-a-half years after the attacks on the US — after authorities discovered in August last year that the courier lived with his brother and their families in an unusual and extremely high-security building, officials said.
“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw: an extraordinarily unique compound,” a senior administration official said.
“The bottom line of our collection and our analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist target. The experts who worked this issue for years assessed that there was a strong probability that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin Laden,” another administration official said.
The home is in Abbotabad, a town about 60km north of Islamabad, that is relatively affluent and home to many retired members of Pakistan’s military.
It was a far cry from the popular notion of bin Laden hiding in some mountain cave on the rugged and inaccessible Afghan-Pakistan border — an image often evoked by officials up to and including former US president George W. Bush.
The building, about eight times the size of other nearby houses, sat on a large plot of land that was relatively secluded when it was built in 2005.
Intense security measures included 3.6m to 5.5m outer walls topped with barbed wire and internal walls that sectioned off different parts of the compound, officials said. Two security gates restricted access and residents burned their trash, rather than leaving it for collection as did their neighbors, officials said.
Few windows of the three-story home faced the outside of the compound and a terrace had a 2.1m privacy wall, officials said.
“It is also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately US$1 million, but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it,” an administration official said. “The brothers had no explainable source of wealth.”
US analysts realized that a third family lived there in addition to the two brothers and the age and makeup of the third family matched those of the relatives — including his youngest wife — they believed would be living with bin Laden.