The killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces put American and allied officials on guard against possible reprisals as they vowed to maintain the fight against terrorism.
“Though bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is not,” CIA Director Leon Panetta, who oversaw the overnight mission to kill bin Laden, said today in a statement sent to agency employees. “The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must -- and will -- remain vigilant and resolute.”
Bin Laden was killed almost 10 years after orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in suburban Washington and in a field in Pennsylvania, where hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. He was killed after a decade on the run in a firefight with a team of U.S. operatives who raided the compound in Pakistan where he had been hiding.
“On nights like this one we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama said in a late-night televised address from the White House.
Bin Laden, 54, eluded American forces that invaded Afghanistan following the 2001 attacks, escaping across the mountainous border with Pakistan. U.S. intelligence last August picked up his trail in Pakistan after years of “painstaking” work, then tracked him to a compound in Abbottabad, a city north of Islamabad, Obama said.
“Finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” he said.
Central Intelligence Agency specialists used photo identification techniques and DNA tests to positively identify bin Laden’s body, U.S. officials told reporters at a briefing. In addition, a woman believed to be bin Laden’s wife also identified him by name, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The body was taken out of Pakistan by the special forces team. The officials said it was washed and wrapped in a white sheet in a process that followed Islamic traditions. It eventually was placed in a weighted bag and buried in the North Arabian Sea, the officials said.
Obama was informed about the initial identification just after 7 p.m. last night and later was shown a photograph of the scene, an administration official said.
Global stocks rose and crude oil dropped the most in almost three weeks after Obama’s announcement. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index advanced 0.3 percent at 10:10 a.m. in New York. U.S. and German government bonds declined. Crude oil tumbled as much as 2.7 percent.
The hunt for Bin Laden stoked international tensions with the U.S. over how to defeat the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Pakistani leaders have condemned the use of U.S. drones to target militants along the Afghan border, while Vice President Joe Biden in January told Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that “al-Qaeda and its allies have found refuge in your country.”
Abbottabad, a city of about 100,000 people within 35 miles of the capital Islamabad, is the center of a region dominated by army facilities and weapons factories. The city, named for the British colonial officer who founded it, has avoided the terrorist attacks that have struck Lahore, Karachi and other major Pakistani cities.
U.S. officials said they didn’t share their intelligence with any other country, including Pakistan, and only a small group of people in the government knew the plans.
Terrorists “belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan,” Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a statement today in reaction to the news. Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement that bin Laden’s death was a “major setback” to terrorist groups.
The State Department issued an alert to U.S. citizens traveling abroad to warn of potential anti-American violence as a result of the raid. Security around the U.S. consulate in Karachi was increased, with police and paramilitary forces taking positions and setting up check posts outside the building.
“In the immediate term, there will be some retaliation, there will be some revenge attacks,” said Rohan Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. He said al-Qaeda’s operational structure will remain intact under Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s top lieutenant.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while calling the killing of bin Laden “a significant success,” said in a statement from alliance headquarters in Brussels that “terrorism continues to pose a direct threat to our security.”
Pakistan’s Taliban said bin Laden was still alive and reports of his death were baseless, Karachi-based GEO Television reported, citing a statement from the group.
Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, made capturing bin Laden key to national security.
Obama said that shortly after taking office in 2009, he directed CIA chief Panetta to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the “top priority” in the war against al-Qaeda. In August, Obama was briefed on a possible lead, he said.
The intelligence ultimately revealed that bin Laden was living in a home in a secure compound in Abbottabad, according to administration officials who briefed reporters after Obama spoke. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing the planning of the raid, said the compound was valued at about $1 million and was built roughly five years ago for the purpose of harboring bin Laden.
The three-story compound had security measures including walls as high as 18 feet and topped with barbed wire, the officials said. Access was restricted by two security gates and residents burned their trash instead of leaving it out for collection like the other homes in the neighborhood. There were no phone or Internet connections, according to the officials.
Officials said they didn’t know for certain how long bin Laden had been living there.
The president gave the go-ahead for the operation early in the morning of April 29, according to one of the officials.
The helicopter raid carrying U.S. Navy Seal commandos was ordered by Panetta, who monitored the operation from his seventh-floor command center at CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia, a U.S. official said. Officials said the raid was designed to minimize risk to non-combatants in the compound. At least two helicopters were used; one had mechanical problems.
The operation, which began around midnight local time, lasted less than 40 minutes. Three other adult males were killed in addition to bin Laden, officials said. One woman was killed when she was used as a human shield by a male combatant, the officials said.
Express 24/7, a Lahore, Pakistan-based television station, showed footage of what it said was a compound in Abbottabad in flames. Several Pakistani television stations broadcast what they said was a still photograph of bin Laden’s body, with his face smeared with blood and his left eye mutilated.
Reaching a Goal
“Tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to,” Obama, 49, said. “That is the story of our history.”
Obama warned that the fight against terrorism isn’t ended with the death of bin Laden.
“There’s no doubt that al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us,” he said.
Even before Obama spoke, a cheering, chanting crowd gathered outside the north gates of the White House as news of bin Laden’s death spread. The throng of people continued to grow after midnight along Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It’s been 10 years, it’s really a rallying point that we’ve been successful with what we’ve been doing abroad,” said Glen Dalakian, 21, a student at American University, who was among those gathered in front of the White House this morning. “It makes you proud to be an American waving the flag once again.”
Obama called Bush to inform him about the raid.
“I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission,” the former president said in a statement. “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 Sept. 11, 2001.”
Boehner Commends Obama
The administration briefed congressional officials before the president’s address.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the killing of bin Laden a success for the “forces of peace.”
“But this doesn’t mean that international terrorism has been defeated,” Merkel said in a statement in Berlin. “We all must remain alert.”
“The news that Osama bin Laden is dead will bring great relief to people across the world,” U.K Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement congratulating Obama and the U.S. personnel who conducted the raid.
“Osama bin Laden was responsible for the worst terrorist atrocities the world has seen -- for 9/11 and for so many attacks, which have cost thousands of lives, many of them British,” Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. “It is a great success that he has been found and will no longer be able to pursue his campaign of global terror.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters in Canberra that “whilst al-Qaeda has been hurt today, al-Qaeda is not finished.” Australian embassies and consulates have been told to heighten security awareness, she said.
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