National News

Osama bin Laden killed, buried at sea

Posted May 1, 2011
Updated May 2, 2011

— Osama bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., was killed in a firefight with elite American forces Sunday, then quickly buried at sea in a stunning finale to a furtive decade on the run.

Long believed to be hiding in caves, bin Laden was tracked down in a costly, custom-built hideout not far from a Pakistani military academy.

"Justice has been done," President Barack Obama said in a dramatic announcement at the White House while a crowd cheered outside and hundreds more gathered at ground zero in Manhattan to celebrate the news.

The military operation took mere minutes.

U.S. helicopters flew elite counter-terrorism troops into the compound, identified by the CIA as bin Laden's hideout, and back out again in less than 40 minutes. Bin Laden was shot in the head, officials said, after he and his bodyguards resisted the assault.

Three adult males were also killed in the raid, including one of bin Laden's sons, whom officials did not name. One of bin Laden's sons, Hamza, is a senior member of al-Qaida. U.S. officials also said one woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant, and two other women were injured.

"I heard a thundering sound, followed by heavy firing. Then firing suddenly stopped. Then more thundering, then a big blast," said Mohammad Haroon Rasheed, a resident of Abbottobad, Pakistan, after the choppers had swooped in and then out again.

His body was put aboard the USS Carl Vinson and placed into the North Arabian Sea. The U.S. official who disclosed the burial at sea said it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains.

Officials said DNA evidence and facial recognition technology were used to identify the body as bin Laden's. The body was photographed before being buried at sea, although no images have been released by the Obama administration.

Traditional Islamic procedures for handling the remains were followed, officials said, including washing the corpse, placing it in a white sheet and burying it quickly.

Bin Laden's death marks a psychological triumph in a long struggle that began with the Sept. 11 attacks, and seems certain to give Obama a political lift. But its ultimate impact on al-Qaida is less clear.

The greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. is now considered to be the al-Qaida franchise in Yemen, far from al-Qaida's core in Pakistan. The Yemen branch almost took down a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas 2009 and nearly detonated explosives aboard two U.S. cargo planes last fall. Those operations were carried out without any direct involvement from bin Laden.

The few fiery minutes in Abbottobad followed years in which U.S. officials struggled to piece together clues that ultimately led to bin Laden, according to an account provided by senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.

Based on statements given by U.S. detainees since the 9/11 attacks, they said, intelligence officials have long known that bin Laden trusted one al-Qaida courier in particular, and they believed he might be living with him in hiding.

Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, provided the nom de guerre of the courier. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed's successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.

Four years ago, the U.S. learned the man's identity, which officials did not disclose, and then about two years later, they identified areas of Pakistan where he operated. Last August, the man's residence was found, officials said.

"Intelligence analysis concluded that this compound was custom built in 2005 to hide someone of significance," with walls as high as 18 feet and topped by barbed wire, according to one official. Despite the compound's estimated $1 million cost and two security gates, it had no phone or Internet running into the house.

By mid-February, intelligence from multiple sources was clear enough that Obama wanted to "pursue an aggressive course of action," a senior administration official said. Over the next two and a half months, the president led five meetings of the National Security Council focused solely on whether bin Laden was in that compound and, if so, how to get him, the official said.

Obama made a decision to launch the operation on Friday, shortly before flying to Alabama to inspect tornado damage, and aides set to work on the details.

The president spent part of his Sunday on the golf course, but cut his round short to return to the White House for a meeting where he and top national security aides reviewed final preparations for the raid.

Two hours later, Obama was told that bin Laden had been tentatively identified.

CIA director Leon Panetta was directly in charge of the military team during the operation, according to one official, and when he and his aides received word at agency headquarters that bin Laden had been killed, cheers broke out around the conference room table.

Administration aides said the operation was so secretive that no foreign officials were informed in advance, and only a small circle inside the U.S. government was aware of what was unfolding half a world away.

In his announcement, Obama said he had called Pakistani President Zardari after the raid, and said it was "important to note that our counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding."

One senior administration told reporters, though, "we were very concerned ... that he was inside Pakistan, but this is something we're going to continue to work with the Pakistani government on."

The compound is about 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy, in a city that is home to three army regiments and thousands of military personnel. Abbottabad is surrounded by hills and with mountains in the distance.

Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan's security establishment of protecting bin Laden, though Islamabad has always denied it, and in a statement the foreign ministry said his death showed the country's resolve in the battle against terrorism.

Whatever the global repercussions, bin Laden's death marked the end to a manhunt that consumed most of a decade that began in the grim hours after bin Laden's hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center twin towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon across the Potomac River from Washington. A fourth plane was commandeered by passengers who overcame the hijackers and forced the plane to crash in the Pennsylvania countryside.

In all, nearly 3,000 were killed in the worst terror attacks on American soil.

Former President George W. Bush, who was in office on the day of the attacks, issued a written statement hailing bin Laden's death as a momentous achievement. "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done," he said.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • jbarron4950 May 2, 2011

    For all those who think Bin Laden was killed. CAN'T BE! He was a yeti alien with a CIA secret code who also was involved in the Kennedy assassination and now lives in Aruba with Gwen Stefani. Our Government has been covering this up since around the early 1200's and won't release the names of the founding fathers because they were all Masons who created Washington to be a power field for starships. I believe.....bigal02282

    What is wrong with you? Do you even begin to realize that you have just released "Top Secret" information? You better get to Pakistan as soon as you can, because the CIA will be looking for you along witht he Navy Seals.

  • jbarron4950 May 2, 2011

    My question is this. The media say it was confirmed by DNA testing, which is amazing because everything you read about DNA testing it takes 2 weeks to 30 days to get the results. So how did they do it in 30 minutes, in the field?

    Then their is the quick burial, why? Take him to sea no problem but let the US see him dead. This smells to me, sorry, but to many questions and not enough answers.......babedan

    Maybe because in civilian courts there is a heavy backlog in cases. Do you even begin to realize how that works? I'm sure that as important as this was, those cased can waited for one of the biggest events of the century.

  • NCSU2311 May 2, 2011

    "Forgive them. They are listening to Rush. Im listening to the spin too. He is repeatedly calling Obama, Osama, and Osama, Obama. Hes been doing it all day. The sheep will always follow."

    I dunno chrome. I heard someone on NPR this morning make the same gaffe.
    May 2, 2011 3:14 p.m.
    Report abuse

    The gaffe is easy to make. Rush did it literally 20+ times in a row. I heard it with my own ears.

  • jbarron4950 May 2, 2011

    No one said OBAMA was dead... fool.....seankelly15

    Well here's one that even better. Someone stated that Obama had killed Obama, which to me would indicate suicide. Did this occur right after the president made his broadcast?

  • jbarron4950 May 2, 2011

    "JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED" This is all that matters right now. This story has nothing to do with politics and I am so ashamed of so many people on here. But as a Conservative, I give due credit to the CIA, SPECIAL OPS and PRESIDENT OBAMA. Job well done. Bin Laden is now fish food. And if there is a "HELL", I'm sure he is begging for water right now. Very proud to be an American today, and every day.........kjones026

    Well someone who obviously is intelligent.

  • jbarron4950 May 2, 2011

    Glad this era of the Taliban is over. Of course now Bin Laden is a Martyr. I hope the US doesn't let it guard down. I'm sure Bin Laden has already been replaced. As much as I dislike saying it, I would think retaliation is now on the minds of all Taliban and other extremist Muslim groups.....Stand-In-The-Door

    That would be al-Qaida not the Taliban.

  • Common Nonsensical May 2, 2011

    "Forgive them. They are listening to Rush. Im listening to the spin too. He is repeatedly calling Obama, Osama, and Osama, Obama. Hes been doing it all day. The sheep will always follow."

    I dunno chrome. I heard someone on NPR this morning make the same gaffe.

  • idontbeleivethat May 2, 2011

    Fedding him to the fishes was a good idea.... now there won't be a monument built on his gravesite for terrorists to hold an annual pilgrimage to.

  • jbarron4950 May 2, 2011

    TruthBKnown Returns......Well said. I disagree with Obama on pretty much everything. But this is a great day and he got this one right. People who can't give Obama ANY credit are just partisan hacks. We have to be fair. If Bush had gotten OBL, we'd have been singing his praises. Obama deserves praise for getting this one right.

    I have to give you due credit on this one!!!

  • nighttrain2010 May 2, 2011

    >>pakistan is real trouble as far as I am concerned

    Well heck, why don't we just 'fix' Pakistan while we're at it? At some point, eventually because we're going to run out of money and volunteers, people are going to have to accept that not every nation has the same interest as these US.

    Or do you expect the armed forces of these US to invade every nation in the world whose views are like ours?