Sept. 11 Mastermind Bin Laden Killed In Pakistan

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Many people believed Osama bin Laden was holed up in Afghanistan. Instead, President Obama announced he was killed by U.S. forces in a raid on a two-story house In Abbottabad, Pakistan.


Three American presidents sought to remove Osama bin Laden as a security threat to the United States - Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. NPR's Don Gonyea has covered two of those presidents at the White House, and he's with us.

Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What was last night like?

GONYEA: We got word before 10 o'clock that there would be an announcement coming on a Sunday night from the president on national security. That's all we could get. But what happens is you start playing out all the possibilities in your head. No president ever does this out of the blue like that on a Sunday night after all the reporters have been sent home.

And even though I think a lot of us have been in that mindset where this bin Laden story is just kind of going to go out into perpetuity, it was the only thing any of us could really think it was.

INSKEEP: The only thing that seemed to apply to the situation.

GONYEA: The only thing that would drive this. And it became very surreal that this president would get this opportunity to make this kind of an announcement after seven-plus years of the Bush administration, post 9/11, and him having left office with this being one of his major disappointments.

INSKEEP: Weren't you covering the White House on 9/11?

GONYEA: I was there on 9/11.

INSKEEP: And that must've been an amazing experience. And also to be recalling that on this occasion almost a decade later.

GONYEA: Exactly. That is a day that informs virtually every story I've done since. And always hanging above things is the fact that Osama bin Laden was still in the hills of Waziristan or somewhere in Pakistan where he, again, seemed to be unreachable.

INSKEEP: It was the haunting question for President George W. Bush all those years.

GONYEA: Absolutely. And it was just six days after 9/11 where he uttered those words wanted dead or alive. He seemed very confident then that the U.S. would capture Osama bin Laden on his watch dead or alive.

As that administration played out, you know, every October of an election year we wondered if there'd be an October surprise, if this would be when they're going to find him.

But gradually we would suddenly hear President Bush saying it's not about bin Laden. It's about the larger fight.

INSKEEP: Well, I want to ask about that, Don. That's been on my mind, because officials have said for years it's, you know, Osama bin Laden is not as important as you make him out to be. He's not the essential thing.

And, of course, you realize they have to say that for political reasons, for propaganda reasons, because otherwise you're basically acknowledging your embarrassment, you're acknowledging your impotence.

But I want to know, as somebody who's covered the White House in these two administrations, was it all the time really the central thing that national security people were thinking about? Where is this guy? How can we get this guy?

GONYEA: Yes. He was always the most wanted, which is not to say that he was as critical as a leader of the movement in these last few years.

INSKEEP: He was in hiding with no Internet apparently - or phone.

GONYEA: Which makes it more difficult. And al-Qaida has spread its tentacles as some describe it. And there are other leaders. And it is not this centralized organization.

But given all of that, this is still the man who changed terrorism as we know it. How it was carried out. These big, big attacks - 9/11 and attacks on the World Trade Center and attacks on the USS Cole. And it was very important to get him.

And because of 9/11, too, and the searing, searing impact that had and the deep scars in this country, it does bring a certain closure to that, even if this is nowhere near the end of the fight to derail global terrorism.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks for a long night of work.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea.

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