Osama bin Laden is dead. "Tonight I can announce to the American people, and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that has killed bin Laden," President Obama said Sunday evening during a surprise address to the nation. Recounting a manhunt that spanned a decade, he said U.S. forces killed the Al Qaeda leader at a compound deep inside Pakistan.
"Today at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan," Obama said. "A small team of Americans carried out that operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama Bin Laden and took custody of his body."
The town where Bin Laden hid is near Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city, far from the remote areas often associated with the hunt.
Based on intelligence received a few months ago, the operation took weeks to organize. The mansion in Abbottabad attracted the attention of agents, according to wire reports, because it was substantially larger than nearby dwellings, unusually well-fortified, and lacking internet or phone service despite an assessed value of more than $1m. Trash was burned rather than put out for collection. Bin Laden was eventually identified as one of the occupants.
Earlier in the evening, members of the White House press corps were roused by cryptic messages; "Get to work," the NYT reports as the totality of one email sent to reporters. Donald Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn tweeted at about 10:25 p.m. that "I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn."
The president's address was scheduled for 10:30 p.m., ultimately beginning an hour later. In the meantime, rumors swirled and information leaked from within the administration. American forces were said to have launched a helicopter assault, rather than using drones. Elements of Pakistani intelligence were said to be involved. A correspondent on CNN said that Obama gave the order to attack during the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
As Obama spoke, crowds swelled outside the White House and sang The Star-Spangled Banner.
Born in 1957, bin Laden founded the al-Qaeda jihadist group and is suspected of orchestrating terrorist operations including the bombings of United States Embassies and the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. He successfully evaded capture for years, including an infamous near miss during the Battle of Tora Bora in 2001. On the run, bin Laden occasionally hectored the West in recorded messages, amid persistent rumors of ill-health and disengagement from Al-Qaeda's operational front lines.
"On nights like this one," the president said, "we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda's terror, justice has been done."