IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

US forces kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed thousands of Americans, was slain in his hideout in Pakistan early Monday.
Get more newsLiveon
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Key details:

  • Al-Qaida leader killed in operation led by Navy SEALs, CIA forces
  • DNA evidence: 99.9 certain it was bin Laden
  • His compound was located close to Pakistan army base
  • President Obama says 'justice has been done'
  • Former President Bush hails 'momentous achievement'

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed thousands of Americans, was slain Sunday in his luxury hideout in Pakistan in a firefight with U.S. forces, ending a manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade.

"Justice has been done," President Barack Obama declared late Sunday as crowds formed outside the White House to celebrate. Many sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "We Are the Champions."

Hundreds more waved American flags at ground zero in New York — where the twin towers that once stood as symbols of American economic power were brought down by bin Laden's hijackers 10 years ago.

Bin Laden, 54, was killed after a gunbattle with Navy SEALs and CIA paramilitary forces at a compound in the city of Abbottabad. He was shot in the left eye, NBC News' Savannah Guthrie reported citing an unnamed U.S. official.

In a background briefing with journalists, on the American forces before he was killed.

DNA tests
The special operations forces were on the ground for less than 40 minutes and the operation was watched in real-time by CIA director Leon Panetta and other intelligence officials in a conference room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., an official said on condition of anonymity.

The team returned to Afghanistan with bin Laden's body, U.S. officials said. NBC News reported that bin Laden was later buried at sea.

Islamic tradition calls for a body to be buried within 24 hours, but finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult, a senior administration official said.

Two Obama administration officials told the Associated Press Monday that DNA evidence shows the body was bin Laden's, with 99.9 percent confidence.

Other U.S. officials said one of bin Laden's sons and two of his most trusted couriers also were killed, as was an unidentified woman who was used as a human shield.

'A kill operation' Al Arabiya TV reported that two of bin Laden's wives and four of his children were also captured during the operation.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. security official told Reuters that Navy SEALs dropped by helicopter to the compound were under orders to not capture bin Laden.

"This was a kill operation," the official said.

Intelligence officials weren't certain that bin Laden would be at the site as there was "no smoking gun that put him there," NBC News reported. But Bin Laden was indeed holed up in a two-story house 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy when four helicopters carrying U.S. forces swooped in.

Bin Laden's guards opened fire on the commandos and his final hiding place was left in flames, witnesses said.

One of the choppers "inexplicably" stopped working during the operation and landed, sources told NBC News. The chopper was later destroyed by the U.S. team and the raid went forward.

U.S. officials said no Americans were hurt in the operation.

Abbottabad is home to three Pakistan army regiments and thousands of military personnel and is dotted with military buildings. BBC News described the army site as the country's equivalent to West Point.

The discovery that bin Laden was living in an army town in Pakistan raises pointed questions about how he managed to evade capture and even whether Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership knew of his whereabouts and sheltered him.

The news of bin Laden's death immediately raised concerns that reprisal attacks from al-Qaida and other Islamist extremist groups could follow soon.

"In the wake of this operation, there may be a heightened threat to the U.S. homeland," a U.S. official said. "The U.S. is taking every possible precaution. The State Department has sent advisories to embassies worldwide and has issued a travel ban for Pakistan."

Security ramped up in U.S.Police in New York, site of the deadliest attack on Sept. 11, said they had already begun to "ramp up" security on their own.

Other local law enforcement agencies around the U.S. are adding extra security measures out of "an abundance of caution," according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The agency said the extra police were not a response to a specific threat and facilities would operate normally.

In Los Angeles, police said they were stepping up intelligence monitoring and in Philadelphia, a lieutenant said police were checking mosques and synagogues every hour.

'Momentous achievement' Charles Wolf of New York, whose wife, Katherine, died on Sept, 11, 2001, rejoiced at the news, which he called "wonderful."

"I am really glad that man's evil is off this earth forever," Wolf said. "I am just very glad that they got him."

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he had personally been informed by Obama of the death of the terrorist leader whose attacks forever defined his eight years in office.

"This momentous achievement marks 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 former president said.

"The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."

Obama echoed his predecessor, declaring that "the death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's struggle to defeat al-Qaida."

But he stressed that the effort against the organization continues. Al-Qaida remains in existence as an organization, presumably under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, 59, an Egyptian physician who is widely believed to have been bin Laden's No. 2.

"We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad," Obama said, while emphasizing that "the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday the killing of bin Laden is not the end of the war on terrorism and warned the network's members that the U.S. would be relentless in its pursuit of them.

Turning to deliver a direct message to bin Laden's followers, she vowed: "You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us but you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process."

'Affluent suburb' Officials had long believed that bin Laden was hiding a mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In August, U.S. intelligence officials got a tip on his whereabouts, which led to the operation that culminated Sunday, Obama said.

By mid-February, information developed that made U.S. officials confident that the information was sound.

In mid-March, Obama headed five National Security Council meetings on the subject. Friday morning, he gave the final order to carry out the attack on a compound in what was described as an "affluent suburb" of Islamabad.

"The bottom line of our collection and analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound held a high-value terrorist target," a senior official said, with a "strong probability" that it was bin Laden.

"It is also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it," an administration official added.

Bin Laden's compound was huge and "extraordinarily unique," about eight times larger than other homes in the area, U.S. officials said.

Few windows of the three-story home faced the outside of the compound, and other intense security measures included 12- to 18-foot outer walls topped with barbed wire and internal walls that sectioned off different parts of the compound, officials said.

They said the compound was isolated by 12-foot walls, with access restricted by two security gates. Residents in the compound burned their trash, rather than leaving it for collection as did their neighbors, officials said.

The sound of at least two explosions rocked Abbottabad as the fighting raged.

"After midnight, a large number of commandos encircled the compound. Three helicopters were hovering overhead. All of a sudden there was firing toward the helicopters from the ground," said Nasir Khan, a resident of the town.

"There was intense firing and then I saw one of the helicopters crash," said Khan, who had watched the dramatic scene unfold from his rooftop.

Resident Sahibzada Salahuddin said he was asleep when explosions woke him.

"I was sleeping when all of a sudden there was a blast. It was followed by two more small blasts ... I opened the door and saw the entire compound was on fire," he said.

The role of Pakistan, with which Washington has had a difficult relationship for years, remained unclear. A senior Pakistani intelligence official told NBC News that Pakistani special forces took part in the operation, but senior U.S. and Pakistani officials said Pakistan was not informed of the attack in advance.

Pakistan's first official statement about the operation Monday said the death of bin Laden showed the resolve of Pakistan and the world to battle terrorism, and that it was "a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world."

"This operation was conducted by the U.S. forces in accordance with declared U.S. policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the U.S. forces, wherever found in the world," the statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry statement said.

Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan's security establishment of protecting bin Laden, though Islamabad has always denied this.

Earlier, a senior adviser to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told NBC News that the politician was expected to make an "extremely positive" statement later Monday because bin Laden was "an enemy of the Pakistani people."

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, argued that the strike proved the real fight against terrorists was outside his country's borders.

"For years we have said that the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses," Karzai said. "It is in safe havens, and today that was shown to be true."

He offered his appreciation to international and Afghan forces who have lost their lives in the nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan and expressed hope that bin Laden's death could mean the end of terrorism. But he said now is the time to stop assaults that endanger or harass Afghan civilians.

Karzai pledged, however, that Afghanistan stands ready to do its part to help fight terrorists and extremists.

"We are with you and we are your allies," he said, noting that many Afghans had died because of bin Laden's terror network.

'I'm completely numb'
Reaction to the news of bin Laden's death was swift.

Bonnie McEneaney, 57, whose husband, Eamon, died in the 9/11 attacks, said the death of bin Laden was "long overdue."

"It doesn't bring back all the wonderful people who were killed 10 years ago," McEneaney told by phone from her home in New Canaan, Conn.

"I'm completely numb. I'm stunned," she said.

"The first thought I had in my mind was that it didn't bring my son back," Jack Lynch, who lost his son, New York City firefighter Michael Francis Lynch, on Sept. 11, 2001, told

"You cut the head off a snake, you'd think it would kill the snake. But someone will take his place," Lynch said. "But people like him still exist. The fact that he's gone is not going to stop terrorism."

Lynch, 75, is a retired transit worker. His family's charity, the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation, has made grants to send dozens of students to college. He said he would not celebrate bin Laden's death.

"I understand that bin Laden was an evil person. He may have believed in what he was doing. I'm not going to judge him," Lynch said. "I'm sure some people will look at this and they'll be gratified that he's dead, but me personally, I'm going to leave his fate in God's hands."

U.S. officials who have been entrenched in the battle against al-Qaida for years were more jubilant.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, said he was "overjoyed that we finally got the world's top terrorist."

"The world is a better and more just place now that Osama bin Laden is no longer in it," McCain said in a statement. "I hope the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks will sleep easier tonight and every night hence knowing that justice has been done."