By Margaret Talev and Jonathan S. Landay
WASHINGTON, D.C. —
Osama Bin Laden is dead.
President Barack Obama made the dramatic late-night announcement Sunday from the East Room of the White House, ending the long, elusive international manhunt for the leader of the al Qaida terror organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“Justice has been done,” Obama said in an 10-minute address shortly before midnight.
Bin Laden, perhaps the most reviled man in the eyes of Americans, also was sought for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa.
A small team of U.S. operatives killed Bin Laden Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after a firefight, took custody of his body and confirmed his identity, Obama said. The president said a possible lead to Obama’s whereabouts emerged last August but took “many months” to run down.
He determined last week that there was enough intelligence to take action, he said. Sunday’s targeted operation went down without harm to Americans and without civilian casualties, he said.
Celebratory crowds flocked outside the gates of the White House, waving American flags and singing the national anthem.
“The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam,” Obama said. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
Obama said the Pakistani government had cooperated with the United States to make the operation possible.
Bin Laden has been the target of history’s most intense international manhunt, an operation that’s focused on the remote tribal areas of Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
While Bin Laden’s death will represent a major blow to the international terrorist network that he led, U.S. officials have long said that it will not end the threat of Islamic extremism because al Qaida has metastasized into lethal branches based in Yemen and North Africa, and has inspired militants around the world.
Bin Laden’s death also represents a major boost for Obama, coming as he struggles with an uncertain economic recovery and mixed public sentiment about the U.S. approach to civilian uprisings in Libya through the Mideast and North Africa.
But Bin Laden’s death is unlikely to alter the course of the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, where al Qaida has been playing a secondary role to the Taliban and allied militant groups.