Osama bin Laden, leader of terror outfit al- Qaeda and alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, was killed in Pakistan in a Special Forces operation by the United States, U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Sunday night.
In a statement issued shortly after 11.30 p.m., Mr. Obama confirmed that Osama, high on the list of U.S. authorities' most wanted men, had been killed after a “fire-fight” in Abbottabad, a military cantonment town not far from Islamabad. The President said U.S. forces subsequently “took custody of his body.”
Media reports quoted administration officials saying Osama had offered resistance to the assault team, presumed to comprise U.S. Navy Seals, and was shot in the head. The end came when U.S. forces in helicopters attacked a large walled compound where Osama and some of his family members were said to be hiding.
Buried at sea
While U.S. officials said DNA evidence confirmed that Osama was killed, no official evidence of his identity was released yet. Senior administration officials, briefing the media, had said the body would be handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition, and reports confirmed that he was “buried at sea.”
Even as news of his death broke, large crowds gathered outside the White House, at Ground Zero — the site of the 9/11 attacks — and in Times Square, New York City. Comprising mostly college-aged youngsters, the masses waved the American flag, sang the U.S. national anthem and chanted “USA, USA”.
Touching upon the historic import of Osama's death after nearly a decade of the U.S.-led war on terror, Mr. Obama said in his address to the nation: “For over two decades, Bin Laden has been al-Qaeda's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.”
Mr. Obama said the death of Osama marked the “most significant achievement to date” in the U.S.' effort to defeat the al-Qaeda; however, he cautioned: “Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There is no doubt that the al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must — and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
Echoing the popular mood of the jubilant masses on the streets, Mr. Obama said justice had been done. The former Presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – also associated with pursuing Osama for terror attacks on U.S. soil – also joined with Mr. Obama in hailing Osama killing as justice delivered.
‘Mass murderer of Muslims'
Even as spontaneous celebrations erupted across the country, Mr. Obama sought to emphasise that his country would never be at war with Islam, and also that Pakistan's counter-terrorism cooperation had been important in the operation. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.” Indeed, the al-Qaeda had slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, Mr. Obama said.
There was some ambiguity regarding Pakistan's role in the operation. While Pakistani officials were quoted in the media as saying that they did have prior knowledge of the assault in Abbottabad, U.S. officials appeared to deny this, with one senior administration official saying: “We had shared this information with no other country, and... a very, very small group of individuals within the U.S. government was aware of this.”
However, Mr. Obama said he had called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday night, and Pakistani officials “agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations.”
Regarding the covert operation, senior administration officials at the White House revealed numerous details regarding the intelligence gathering efforts that had set the stage for the assault.
Speaking to the media in a late-night conference call, they said that beginning in September 2010 the Central Intelligence Agency was said to have discussed with Mr. Obama “a set of assessments that led it to believe that in fact it was possible that Osama may be located at a compound in Pakistan.”
Following these discussions, officials said, it was determined in mid-February that there was a sound intelligence basis for pursuing the lead in an aggressive way and “developing courses of action to pursue Osama bin Laden at this location.”
With the President giving the final order to pursue the operation on the morning of April 29, the raid was sanctioned for Sunday, May 1, and the target, a large home with 18-foot walls and no telephone or internet connections, was identified based on intelligence reports compiled over four years.
Spending less than 40 minutes in the compound, the U.S. forces “did not encounter any local authorities while performing the raid,” officials said, and apart from Osama, three adult males were said to have been killed, in all likelihood two couriers and Osama's adult son. Osama did offer resistance to the assault, officials said, confirming that one woman was also killed “when she was used as a shield by a male combatant.”
Following the assault, a helicopter was lost due to mechanical failure and “it had to be destroyed by the crew and the assault force.” Officials said crew members boarded the remaining aircraft to exit the compound.