President Obama Announces Bin Laden Is Dead

President Obama announced at the White House Sunday night that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden had been killed in a U.S.-led operation. The announcement comes just months before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Our special coverage on the death of Osama bin Laden follows up on news that Americans have waited years to hear. U.S. Special Forces slipped into Pakistan by helicopter. They shot it out with men in a large walled-in compound and they killed Osama bin Laden, who was hiding inside.

We'll get more details in a moment from our Pentagon reporter, Tom Bowman.

The death of bin Laden is a major victory in the long-running war against al-Qaida. NPR's Scott Horsley reports on how Americans heard about it.

SCOTT HORSLEY: This news was a long time in coming. White House reporters had been sent home on Sunday, only to be called back to the White House shortly before 10:00 p.m., with word the president had an important announcement. It was closer to midnight by the time Mr. Obama stepped to the microphone to say U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden, a terrorist he said was responsible for the murders of thousands of men, women and children.

President BARACK OBAMA: For over two decades, bin Laden has been al-Qaida's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaida.

HORSLEY: Even before the September 11th attacks, U.S. officials had bin Laden in their sights. But for years he'd managed to elude capture, even after his Taliban protectors were routed from Afghanistan. Almost two years ago, President Obama formally ordered CIA Director Leon Panetta to make finding bin Laden a top priority for the intelligence agency. The administration says years of intelligence gathering began to pay off last August, when authorities discovered a heavily-fortified compound outside Islamabad. It appeared to be custom-built for harboring someone as notorious and resourceful as the al-Qaida leader.

President OBAMA: It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan. And 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.

HORSLEY: The president gave that order Friday morning, shortly before leaving the White House for Alabama, where he toured a neighborhood ravaged by last week's tornadoes. He also visited the Kennedy Space Center and delivered a graduation speech at Miami Dade College.

While Mr. Obama was going about business as usual, U.S. forces were preparing for a surgical raid on the compound. It lasted less than 40 minutes. Several people inside the compound were killed along with bin Laden. There were no casualties among the U.S. forces. Only a small number of people in the U.S. government knew about the operation, and tellingly, the U.S. notified Pakistan only after the raid was over.

President OBAMA: Over the years, I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we've done. But it's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.

HORSLEY: President Obama spoke with Pakistani President Zardari after the raid and said Zardari agreed it was a good day for both their countries. Mr. Obama also telephoned former President Bush to let him know the justice Mr. Bush promised in the aftermath of September 11th had finally been meted out.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that killing bin Laden won't by itself spell an end to terrorist attacks. In fact, officials say the threat could be higher in the short run if al-Qaida tries to avenge its loss. The State Department issued a worldwide travel alert, warning of enhanced potential for anti-American violence. But even as he urged Americans to remain vigilant, Mr. Obama offered a reminder of how this country came together, the sense of unity people felt immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

President OBAMA: I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also thanked the intelligence and military professionals who've led the hunt for bin Laden. The American public doesn't often see the work of such people, he said. But today, at least, they know that work's paid off.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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