Monday, May 2, 2011

U.S. Forces Kill Osama bin Laden

U.S. Forces Kill Osama bin Laden

By LAURA MECKLER and ADAM ENTOUS in Washington and ZAHID HUSSAIN in Islamabad

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed 40 miles outside Pakistan's capital - a telling location that could impact regional security in the days ahead. WSJ's Jake Lee and Carlos Tejada are joined by John Bussey in New York to discuss.
.Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, a mastermind of the largest terrorist attack in American history, was killed Sunday in Pakistan in a military operation after the U.S. learned of his location.

The death capped a manhunt of a decade for the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead and dramatically altered U.S. foreign policy and the nation's sense of security.

"Justice has been done," President Barack Obama said from the White House, where he made the dramatic announcement late Sunday. "The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children."

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.He said that he had ordered the attack earlier in the day after it became clear last week that there was sufficient intelligence, following a lead about his whereabouts that first surfaced in August. Mr. bin Laden was killed with a "head shot" during the firefight, a senior administration official said. The raid was conducted by U.S. military personnel operating under the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Bin Laden's body was buried at sea, in order to be in accordance with Islamic tradition that burial take place within 24 hours, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Saudis declined a U.S. offer to take the body, this person said.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered outside the White House—and at Ground Zero in New York City, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood—to mark the moment. Frank Cantwell, a 64-year-old operating engineer at the construction site there, said there were only a few people present when the news first broke. "It's long overdue," he said. "You can sort of hear the silent cheers of 3,000 ghosts."

The elusive al Qaeda leader was killed in a targeted assault in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, roughly 40 miles outside the capital city of Islamabad. The raid was conducted by a small helicopter-borne strike team, a senior U.S. administration official said. The team was on the compound for under 40 minutes, the official said.

U.S. President Barack Obama announces Osama bin Laden is dead, after an operation in which the terrorist was tracked down in a compound in Pakistan. Video courtesy of
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..Mr. bin Laden's body was identified by the strike force, officials said. Family members in the compound also positively identified the body as Mr. bin Laden's, giving the U.S. the confidence to make the announcement Sunday. DNA testing is also being conducted.

During the raid, one of the U.S. helicopters had to be destroyed because it was damaged during a hard landing in the compound and couldn't be flown out.

Omar Khan, a local resident in the area of the attack, said American and Pakistani commandos landed in the area at 1:10 a.m., local time, and raided a house. "The entire area was rocked with a massive explosion," he said. "A massive exchange of firing took place which continued for more than half an hour." Security forces have cordoned off the area.

Mr. bin Laden's death is a major milestone for the U.S., but its precise effects on the battle against terrorism are unclear. Although Mr. bin Laden is the inspirational leader of al Qaeda and its offshoots around the world, he isn't thought to be a critical operational leader of the organization. Increasingly, terrorist actions have been undertaken by offshoots of his organization.

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

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Osama bin Laden
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A look at Monday's front pages of U.S. newspapers on the news of Osama bin Laden's death.

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..But Mr. bin Laden remained the worldwide symbol of the terrorist network and militant Islam more broadly. His death will be a major blow to al Qaeda, and one that makes the organization look less powerful.

"Taliban fighters have an admiration for Osama. It will affect their morale" and trigger retaliatory attacks, a Taliban commander in Paktia province in Afghanistan said in a phone interview.

The U.S. believes that Mr. bin Laden will be succeeded by his longtime No. 2, Ayman el Zawahiri. According to a senior administration official, Mr. el Zawahiri is "far less charasmatic and not as well respected" as Mr. bin Laden within the organization and will likely have "difficulty" maintaining the loyalty of Mr. bin Laden's largely Gulf Arab followers.

"Although al Qaeda may not fragment immediately, the loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path to decline that will be difficult to reverse," the senior administration official said.

Late Sunday the U.S. put its embassies on alert and warned Americans of possible reprisal attacks following Mr. bin Laden's death.

Timeline: Osama bin Laden
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.Mr. Obama said he was first briefed on a possible lead on Mr. bin Laden's whereabouts last August. "It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground," Mr. Obama said in his address to the nation Sunday night.

Mr. Obama said he met repeatedly with his national security team "as we developed more information about the possibility that we have located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan."

Last week, there was enough intelligence to take action. On Friday, he gave the order to proceed with what he described as a targeted operation against a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. No Americans were hurt in the raid, which took place on Sunday, Mr. Obama said, and the team took pains to avoid civilian casualties. Mr. Obama stressed that Pakistan's help was critical to developing intelligence on his location.

Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, was killed in an overnight raid. The impact of his death is already being felt in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Taliban members are claiming they will seek revenge. WSJ's Paul Beckett discusses.
.At 3:50 p.m. on Sunday, the president first learned that Mr. bin Laden's body was tentatively identified. At 7:01p.m., Mr. Obama was told there was a "high probability" the body was Mr. bin Laden's.

A senior administration official said Mr. bin Laden "did resist the assault force" and was killed in the firefight that ensued as the strike team entered the compound. Another administration official said the U.S. was taking steps to ensure that Mr. bin Laden's body is "handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition."

Mr. Obama called his predecessors in office, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, before speaking to the nation, a senior administration official said.

Senior U.S. officials said the elusive al Qaeda leader was found in living in a large compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad. In ordering the attack, officials "had high confidence that the compound harbored a high value terrorist target," one official said. He said there was a "strong probability" that Mr. bin Laden was there.

For many years, the CIA has been gathering leads on people in Mr. bin Laden's inner circle, and came to focus on one particular courier who turned out to be key to the operation, officials said. About two years ago, they identified areas where the courier and his brother operated, and they eventually led the U.S. to the compound.

In addition to Mr. bin Laden, three men were killed in the raid. The U.S. believes that two of them were the couriers and the third was Mr. bin Laden's adult son. A woman was also killed during the raid when she was used as a "shield" by one of the men in the compound. Two other women were injured.

The U.S. teams located the residence in August. "We were shocked by what we saw," one official said, calling it "an extraordinarily unique compound." That gave them the confidence it might be harboring Mr. bin Laden.

The compound was roughly eight times larger than other homes in the neighborhood and with security measures including more than 12-foot-high barbed-wire fences and access restricted by two security gates.

The property was valued at about $1 million but had no telephone or Internet service. It was built in 2005. U.S. officials believe it was constructed to house Mr. bin Laden, but they don't know when he moved in.

Because Mr. bin Laden was such an elusive figure, his death is a significant achievement for President Obama, who demanded an aggressive expansion of Predator strikes in Pakistan and pushed for expanded special operations training in that country as well.

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.The strike also has the potential to make already tense relations with Pakistan even more strained. Having vastly ramped up intelligence efforts on the ground and from the air in Pakistan, the U.S. carries out the strikes with little input from the Pakistanis.

The CIA has launched more than 200 drone strikes since it was ramped up in 2008. The bulk of those strikes have been launched under President Obama, who was an early convert to the covert program, which has killed 1,200 militants.

In recent months relations with Pakistan have grown tense, but the drone program has continued. CIA director Leon Panetta met on April 11 with Pakistan's intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and continued to receive private agreement allowing the U.S. to launch drone strikes.

There were differing accounts of Pakistan's involvement in the raid. Senior U.S. officials said that the U.S. didn't notify Pakistan, or any other nation, ahead of the strike, because of concerns about possible leaks that could compromise the safety of the strike force. However, an official with Pakistan's the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency said that the raid was conducted by a joint U.S.-Pakistani team.

Only U.S. personnel took part in the raid, one U.S. military official said, dismissing Pakistani claims that Pakistani forces were involved.

After the news of Mr. bin Laden's death became public, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called an emergency meeting and security around Islamabad was tightened.

The official with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence said the ISI was concerned that the news could lead to further criticism of Pakistan in the U.S. for not doing more to clamp down on al Qaeda in the heart of Pakistan and overshadow the death of Mr. bin Laden. In the past, Pakistani officials have said they didn't know where the al Qaeda leader was.

Mr. bin Laden survived numerous earlier American attempts to capture or kill him, both from the air and by forces on the ground. Knowing he was vulnerable, he appears to have laid the groundwork for his terror movement to survive his death.

In a recent book on Mr. bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, wrote that the al Qaeda leader's goal was to attack the West, and then to move on to Arab states and Israel, but that "he has given no indication that he expects to live long enough to finish the job."

Instead, Mr. Scheuer wrote, Mr. bin Laden "has anticipated a war of attrition, one that might last decades," so he began passing the torch to younger al Qaeda activists.

In recent months, U.S. counterterrorism officials have come to see Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and one of its leaders, U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, as perhaps a bigger immediate threat to the U.S. The CIA and Special Operations teams have been searching for Mr. Awlaki but lack good intelligence on his whereabouts, officials say.

There was a mix of somberness of and celebration near Ground Zero, where a new tower is rapidly becoming part of the city's skyline. Cheers rang out and horns honked, while others lit candles at a memorial at the site.

Sean Truax, a 33-year-old producer, and his wife were in town from Charlotte for the sports Emmys. They took a taxi to Ground Zero from their Midtown hotel. "It felt like the right thing to do," Mr. Truax said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement, "New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001."

Jane Pollicino of Plainview, N.Y., whose husband, Steve, died in the attack on the World Trade Center, said, "It makes it all real again. You carry on day by day, hoping that the government is trying to get this person. But it has been 10 years. "You get a sense of relief," she said, her voice shaking. "But it brings it all back to the surface."

—Michael Saul and Andrew Grossman contributed to this article.
Write to Laura Meckler at

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