Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday in a firefight with covert US forces deep inside Pakistan.
Bin Laden’s death sparked jubilation across the United States with crowds gathering outside the White House, chanting "USA, USA" and waving American flags as Obama made a sudden address to Americans.
“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."
"The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaeda, yet his death does not mark the end of our effort," Obama said. "There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must, and will, remain vigilant at home and abroad."
The President revealed that, shortly after taking office in January 2009, he ordered CIA Director Leon E. Panetta to make bin Laden's death or capture the top priority of the U.S. war against Al-Qaeda.
"Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground," he said. He further said that he met repeatedly with his national security team as information developed indicating bin Laden was at a compound in Pakistan, and that last week he determined enough information was available and authorized the operation.
Obama emphasized that the war against al-Qaeda is not a war against Islam. "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
A source familiar with the US operation said bin Laden was shot in the head. His death was confirmed separately by officials in Pakistan. The body was taken to Afghanistan after he was killed in Pakistan and was later buried at sea, the New York Times reported.
Bin Laden and 3 adult men, including a son of bin Laden were killed along with a woman who was used as a shield by a male combatant, officials said.
The operation took under 40 minutes. A US helicopter was lost due to a mechanical problem and its crew and assault force safely evacuated.
The operation was monitored in real-time by CIA Director Leon Panetta and other intelligence officials in a conference room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, an official said.
Counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped in finding bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding, Obama noted. However, a US official said Pakistani authorities were told the details of the raid after it had taken place. “We shared this intelligence on the compound with no other country, including Pakistan,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. The need to maintain the complete secrecy of the operation was cited as the chief reason.
Besides September 11, Washington has also linked bin Laden to a string of attacks, including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen.
Amid fears of retaliation by Al-Qaeda or other groups, the US State Department issued a global travel alert to all US citizens.
Obama’s Predecessor, George W. Bush, had repeatedly vowed to bring bin Laden to justice “dead or alive” for the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people, but never did before leaving office in early 2009.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the death of bin Laden a “resounding triumph” for Washington and its allies.
India’s Home Ministry said the killing underlined its concern that “terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan.”
Sources: Reuters; AFP; CNN; New York Times