Bin Laden dead

US special forces kill Al Qaeda leader in firefight in Pakistan, ending manhunt launched after 9/11 attacks

By Donovan Slack and Farah Stockman
Globe Staff / May 2, 2011

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WASHINGTON — US special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden yesterday in a firefight at a compound in Pakistan, ending a massive military manhunt that began a decade ago after the Al Qaeda leader directed the largest terrorist attack in US history.

The strike team seized bin Laden’s body after the raid at a compound in Abbottabad, a community about 45 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Authorities later confirmed his identity by comparing tissue with DNA from a bin Laden sister. Her DNA was stored at an unnamed Boston hospital, ABC News reported last night.

“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,’’ the president said as he announced in a late-evening television address that the United States had finally conquered the terrorist “responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children’’ in attacks that began with the hijacking of airliners from Logan International Airport in Boston and two other airports. The Sept. 11, 2001, strike killed nearly 3,000 people on the planes, at the Pentagon, and at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

“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,’’ Obama said.

No Americans were killed or injured in the raid, the president said.

News of bin Laden’s death drew a jubilant crowd of thousands outside the White House. Honking cars and cheering crowds could be heard for blocks. Masses of celebrants pressed up against the White House fence and chanted “USA, USA!’’ well after midnight. Many waved American flags, climbed trees, and monuments, posed for pictures and texted and telephoned friends and relatives.

Obama had called former president George W. Bush before making his address, according to a posting attributed to Bush on Laura Bush’s Facebook page.

“Tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,’’ said the former president, whose presidency was defined by the events of Sept. 11 and America’s response, including the long frustrating hunt for bin Laden.

American officials and specialists had speculated for years that bin Laden was hiding out in the Pakistani mountains near the Afghanistan border. But he turned out to be far deeper within Pakistan.

The president said American authorities picked up information last August about bin Laden’s potential whereabouts. By February, according to officials speaking in a White House background briefing, those reports grew stronger.

Obama led five national security meetings on the subject in March and April and the president gave the order on Friday to attack the compound, the officials said.

Four helicopters launched the attack in the Bilal area of Abbottabad, said a Pakistani intelligence official quoted by the Associated Press. One of the helicopters crashed after it apparently was hit by fire from the ground, the official said. CNN reported that bin Laden’s son, at least two other men, and a woman were also killed in the raid.

The Pakistani official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The compound, on a large plot of land in an affluent neighborhood, is worth about $1 million, senior administration officials said last night. It was built around 2005, and though it did not appear to have phone or Internet connections, it offered tremendous security, including walls 12 to 18 feet high topped by barbed wire. Residents there also appeared to take unusual security precautions, including burning their trash rather than putting it out for collection as their neighbors do.

Pakistani television last night showed the home in flames.

The most famous attempt to capture or kill bin Laden until yesterday came days after Kabul fell to US-backed forces in the fall of 2001. Bin Laden had reportedly slipped out of Kabul and took refuge in a warren of caves in a mountainous region known as Tora Bora, near Pakistan, in December.

US and British special forces, backed by Air Force bombers, closed in on the Al Qaeda leader and a small group of militants but were not able to completely seal the border. Bin Laden, who was reportedly wounded, escaped into Pakistan as special forces closed in.

US forces lost the path of bin Laden, 54, over the years, even as he appeared in videos to taunt and threaten the United States.

Last night Obama said Pakistani cooperation eventually led US forces to bin Laden, but he did not detail Pakistan’s role. The fact that bin Laden was reportedly hiding in plain sight outside of Pakistan’s capital city raises important questions, said Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani police officer who is now a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“What was Pakistani intelligence doing all along, if he was so close to them if they couldn’t track him or his associates?’’ Abbas said.

The State Department early today put US embassies on alert and warned of the heightened possibility for anti-American violence.

The stunning news of bin Laden’s death pulsated through the nation’s capitol.

Around 10 p.m. last night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to inform him.

“The death of Osama bin Laden closes an important chapter in our war against extremists who kill innocent people around the world,’’ Kerry said in a statement last night. “Terrorists everywhere must understand that the United States will hunt them down no matter where they are, no matter how long it takes.’’

“Osama bin Laden has finally gotten the justice he deserved,’’ said Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

Andrew Card, former chief of staff to George W. Bush, said last night that he “appreciates the resolve that President Bush and President Obama have shown.’’

“The head of the snake has been cut off,’’ said Card, the aide who told Bush about the attacks as the former president spoke to school children in Florida.

Representative Barney Frank of Newton expressed similar sentiments. “He was an evil man who was the source of great evil,’’ he said.

Frank said he believes it will bring some measure of solace to the families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11.

“The murder of someone, particularly someone young, it leaves a terrible hole,’’ he said. “This fills a little part of it.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at With staff reports from Farah Stockman, Glen Johnson, Michael Bailey, and Mark Arsenault.