New Details Emerge About Killing Of Bin Laden

  • Osama bin Laden's compound is seen in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday, after the U.S. military raid early Monday that ended with the death of the al-Qaida leader.
    Hide caption
    Osama bin Laden's compound is seen in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday, after the U.S. military raid early Monday that ended with the death of the al-Qaida leader.
    Aqeel Ahmed/AP
  • Pakistani media and local residents gather outside the compound. Revelations that bin Laden had been hiding here, possibly for years, have embarrassed Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment.
    Hide caption
    Pakistani media and local residents gather outside the compound. Revelations that bin Laden had been hiding here, possibly for years, have embarrassed Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment.
    Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
  • The compound is surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire. Neighbors say it's the biggest house in the area.
    Hide caption
    The compound is surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire. Neighbors say it's the biggest house in the area.
    Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
  • The compound appeared to be well-supplied with electricity, although there was no phone or Internet service in the home.
    Hide caption
    The compound appeared to be well-supplied with electricity, although there was no phone or Internet service in the home.
    Sajid Mehmood for NPR
  • Neighbors say the people in the compound did not engage with locals and were rarely seen.
    Hide caption
    Neighbors say the people in the compound did not engage with locals and were rarely seen.
    Sajid Mehmood for NPR
  • Debris is seen in the cabbage patch beside the compound, possibly from the helicopter that U.S. officials said malfunctioned during the raid on the al-Qaida chief's hideout.
    Hide caption
    Debris is seen in the cabbage patch beside the compound, possibly from the helicopter that U.S. officials said malfunctioned during the raid on the al-Qaida chief's hideout.
    Sajid Mehmood for NPR
  • The fortified compound where Osama bin Laden was killed is located in an affluent area north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
    Hide caption
    The fortified compound where Osama bin Laden was killed is located in an affluent area north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
    Digital Globe via Google Earth
  • A diagram of bin Laden's compound is seen in this graphic distributed by the U.S. government.
    Hide caption
    A diagram of bin Laden's compound is seen in this graphic distributed by the U.S. government.
  • Bin Laden was killed by a small team of U.S. Navy special forces during a 40-minute operation at the compound.
    Hide caption
    Bin Laden was killed by a small team of U.S. Navy special forces during a 40-minute operation at the compound.
    Anjum Naveed/AP
  • A U.S. military helicopter is seen near bin Laden's hideout after experiencing mechanical difficulties. There were no reported U.S. casualties.
    Hide caption
    A U.S. military helicopter is seen near bin Laden's hideout after experiencing mechanical difficulties. There were no reported U.S. casualties.
    AFP/Getty Images
  • Pakistani army soldiers move a destroyed helicopter from bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad.
    Hide caption
    Pakistani army soldiers move a destroyed helicopter from bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad.
    Farooq Naeemf/AFP/Getty Images
  • The compound, valued around a million dollars, was guarded by two security gates.
    Hide caption
    The compound, valued around a million dollars, was guarded by two security gates.
    Sajid Mehmood for NPR

1 of 12

View slideshow i

The U.S. was prepared to take Osama bin Laden alive during a raid on a compound north of Islamabad, a top administration official said Monday as President Obama declared it "a good day for America."

Bin Laden, the driving force behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people, was killed by a small team of U.S. Navy special forces during a 40-minute operation at a compound in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, north of the capital, Islamabad.

Navy SEAL Team 6 used four helicopters to swoop down on the three-story, fortress-like compound early Monday, officials said. A firefight erupted, and bin Laden was shot in the head. Several other adults also were killed, including one of the al-Qaida leader's sons and a woman who reportedly was used as a human shield. One helicopter was lost in the operation because of a mechanical failure and was destroyed by the crew, who flew out in the remaining three choppers, along with bin Laden's remains.

A senior intelligence official told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Monday afternoon that bin Laden's body was transported to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the north Arabian Sea. It was washed in accordance with Islamic practices and placed in a white sheet and then put in a "weighted bag," the official said.

A military officer read prepared religious remarks that were translated into Arabic by a "native speaker" who was not further identified by the intelligence official. The body was then placed on a "prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased's body eased into the sea," the official said.

White House officials were mulling the merits and appropriateness of releasing a photo, but senior administration officials said that DNA testing alone offered a near 100 percent certainty that bin Laden was among those shot dead. Photo analysis by the CIA, confirmation by a woman believed to be bin Laden's wife on site, and matching physical features like bin Laden's height all helped confirm the identification.

Bin Laden's Support Network

John Brennan, President Obama's top terrorism adviser, said Monday it was "inconceivable" that bin Laden did not have a support network in Pakistan sheltering him.

But Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an op-ed in the Washington Post denied that suggestion.

"Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact," he said. "Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaida as any nation."

Brennan said that while the possibility of capturing bin Laden alive was considered remote before the assault, "if we'd had the opportunity to take him alive, we would have."

Brennan said that instead, bin Laden and his associates in the compound resisted, though it was unclear if the terrorist leader himself "got off any rounds" himself before being shot in the head and killed.

The opulent surroundings enjoyed by bin Laden in a million-dollar compound, as well as his apparent willingness to use one of his wives as a human shield, "speaks to how false his narrative has been over the years," Brennan told reporters at the White House.

Obama and top White House officials monitored the operation in "real-time visibility," he said, adding that moments when the success or failure of the operation hung in the balance — such as when the helicopter had to be abandoned due to a mechanical failure — were "anxiety-filled."

Although the compound had been under scrutiny for months, it was not clear whether bin Laden was there when the assault was initially launched, and there was some disagreement over whether to go ahead with the operation, Brennan said.

Tracking Down Bin Laden

A map showing northern Pakistan, including Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed

During a briefing early Monday, senior administration officials offered reporters a detailed account of how the 10-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden came to an end.

2007: U.S. intelligence analysts determine the name of a trusted courier who "might be living with and protecting bin Laden."

2009: The analysts identify "areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated" but are "unable to pinpoint exactly where they lived, due to extensive operational security on their part."

August 2010: The courier is tracked to a large, secure compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, an affluent community about 35 miles north of Islamabad.

September 2010: CIA assessments determine that "a key al-Qaida facilitator appeared to be harboring a high-value target," possibly bin Laden, at the Abbottabad compound.

Mid-February 2011: Administration officials conclude there is a "sound intelligence basis" for thinking that bin Laden is at the compound.

March-April: Options to "bring justice to Osama bin Laden" are discussed at a series of National Security Council meetings at the White House.

April 29: President Obama authorizes a helicopter raid on the compound.

May 1/2: Bin Laden is killed "in a firefight" during a 40-minute, early morning raid involving "a small team designed to minimize collateral damage." Three other men and one woman are killed and two other women are injured. U.S. officials believe the men were the courier, his brother and bin Laden's adult son. They also say the woman who was killed "was used as a shield by a male combatant." One U.S. helicopter was lost "due to mechanical failure" and destroyed by the assault team before it left the compound aboard another aircraft.

When Obama gave the green light, he "made what I believe is one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in modern history," Brennan said.

Brennan defended the decision to bury bin Laden at sea, which he said was one of several contingencies planned for in advance.

"It was determined that it was in the best interest of all involved in accordance with Islamic law," which required the body to be buried within 24 hours. He said it would have taken too long to find a country willing to inter bin Laden, given his infamy.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said bin Laden's death showed that the United States had kept its commitment to seeing that justice is done.

"We can all agree this is a good day for America," the president said during a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room. "The world is safer."

The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed source, said Obama would visit New York on Thursday to mark bin Laden's killing and honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Officials Warn Of Retaliation

In a memo to CIA employees on Monday, the agency's director, Leon Panetta, hailed the demise of "the most infamous terrorist of our time," but he warned that "terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge" the killing of their leader.

"Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida is not," Panetta said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed those remarks, saying the threat from al-Qaida "will not end with the death of Osama bin Laden."

"The fight continues, and we will never waver," she said, adding in a direct message to bin Laden's followers, "You cannot wait us out."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called bin Laden's death "an important moment in the war against radical extremism and terrorism." Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said Pakistan must demonstrate that it had no knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts.

"This is going to be a time of real pressure" on Pakistan "to basically prove to us that they didn't know that bin Laden was there," Lieberman (I-CT) said at a news conference.

On the streets of Washington, people like Edith Briggs said they shared a sense of relief, but also some nervousness over the possibility of retaliatory terrorist attacks.

"I am very happy, but I am also on guard because I think they are going to try something," she said in reference to al-Qaida.

With reporting from NPR's Tom Gjelten in Washington, and Dina Temple-Raston in New York. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: