WASHINGTON - (AP) - After nearly a decade of anger and fear,America rejoiced Monday at the demise of Osama bin Laden, theterror mastermind behind the horrific 9/11 attacks. Navy SEALs whokilled the world's most-wanted terrorist seized a trove of al-Qaidadocuments to pore over, and President Barack Obama laid plans tovisit New York's ground zero.
Bin Laden, killed in an intense firefight in a daring raid athis fortified hideout in Pakistan, was hunted down based oninformation first gleaned years ago from detainees at secret CIAprison sites in Eastern Europe, officials disclosed.
His body was quickly taken away for burial at sea, but notbefore a DNA match was done to prove his identity. A U.S. officialsaid there also were photos showing bin Laden with the fatal woundabove his left eye, a gunshot that tore away part of his skull. Thephotos were not immediately released.
"The world is safer. It is a better place because of the deathof Osama bin Laden," Obama declared, hours after U.S. forceskilled the al-Qaida leader in the middle-of-the-night raid on hiscompound in Abbottabad. Obama was expected to visit New York, thesite of al-Qaida's attack on the World Trade Center, and meet withthe families of those killed, an administration official said.
The CIA already was poring over confiscated hard drives, DVDsand other documents looking for inside information on al-Qaida,including clues that might lead to his presumed successor, Aymanal-Zawahri.
Bin Laden's death after a decade on the run unloosed a nationalwave of euphoria mixed with remembrance for the thousands who diedin the Sept. 11 2001, terror attacks. Crowds celebrated throughoutthe night outside the White House and at ground zero in LowerManhattan where the Twin Towers once stood. Thousands of studentsat Penn State University and in other college towns spilled intothe streets and set off firecrackers to mark the moment.
Obama reaped accolades from world leaders he'd kept in the darkabout the operation as well as plaudits from political opponents athome. Republican and Democratic congressional leaders alike gavehim a standing ovation at an evening meeting that was plannedbefore the assault but became a celebration of its success.
"Last night's news unified our country" much as the terroristattacks of 2001 did, Republican House Speaker John Boehner saidearlier in the day. Obama later appealed for that unity to takeroot as the U.S. presses the fight against a terrorist network thatis still lethal - and vowing vengeance.
The SEALs dropped down ropes from helicopters at the compound,killed bin Laden aides and made their way to the main buildingwhere U.S. officials say the terror leader was slain in a gunfight.Within 40 minutes the Americans were gone, taking bin Laden's bodyto the USS Carl Vinson where he was slipped into the sea.
"For my family and I, it's good, it's desirable, it's right,"said Mike Low of Batesville, Ark., whose daughter Sara was a flightattendant aboard the hijacked plane that was flown into the WorldTrade Center North Tower. "It certainly brings an ending to amajor quest for all of us."
Halfway around the world, a prominent al-Qaida commentator vowedrevenge for bin Laden's death. "Woe to his enemies. By God, wewill avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam," he wrote under hisonline name Assad al-Jihad2. "Those who wish that jihad has endedor weakened, I tell them: Let us wait a little bit."
U.S. officials conceded the risk of renewed attack. Theterrorists "almost certainly will attempt to avenge" bin Laden'sdeath, CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote in a memo that congratulatedthe agency for its role in the operation. "Bin Laden is dead.Al-Qaida is not."
Within a few hours, the Department of Homeland Security warnedthat bin Laden's death was likely to provide motivation for attacksfrom "homegrown violent extremists" seeking revenge."
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said, "While there are no specific,bin Laden-related threats at this time, every logical and prudentstep is being taken to mitigate any developing threats." Therewere questions, as well, about Pakistan's role in bin Laden's yearsin hiding. Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintonsaid cooperation from the Pakistani government had helped lead U.S.forces to the compound where he died.
But John Brennan, White House counter-terrorism adviser, toldreporters it was inconceivable that the terrorist fugitive didn'thave some support in Pakistan, where his hideout had been custombuilt six years ago in a city with a heavy military presence. "Iam not going to speculate about what type of support he might havehad on an official basis," he added.
Others were not as reticent.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed ServicesCommittee, said the Pakistani Army and intelligence agency "have alot of questions to answer, given the location, the length of timeand the apparent fact that this was actually - this facility wasactually built for bin Laden, and its closeness to the centrallocation of the Pakistani army."
By their condemnations, bin Laden's supporters confirmed hisdeath in what U.S. officials said was an operation years in themaking. Even so, officials were weighing the release of at leastone photo taken of bin Laden's body as part of what Brennan calledan effort to make sure "nobody has any basis to try and deny" thedeath.
U.S. officials said the information that ultimately led to binLaden's capture originally came from detainees held in secret CIAprison sites in Eastern Europe. There, agency interrogators weretold of an alias used by a courier whom bin Laden particularlytrusted.
It took four long years to learn the man's real name, then yearsmore before investigators got a big break in the case, theseofficials said. Sometime in mid-2010, the man was overheard using aphone by intelligence officials, who then were able to locate hisresidence - the specially constructed $1 million compound withwalls as high as 18 feet topped with barbed wire.
U.S. counterterrorism officials considered bombing the place, anoption that was discarded by the White House as too risky,particularly if it turned out bin Laden was not there.
Instead, Obama signed an order on Friday for a team of SEALs tochopper onto the compound under the cover of darkness. In theensuing 48 hours, the president toured tornado-damaged Alabama anddelivered a joke-filled after-dinner speech to the White HouseCorrespondents Association. When the operation got under way,though, he slid into his chair in the Situation Room in the WhiteHouse, where Brennan said the president and his aides "were ableto monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation"from beginning to end.
Brennan strongly suggested a live video feed was available -SEALs customarily have video cameras attached to their helmets -and the White House released a photo showing the commander inchief, Vice President Joe Biden and top aides staring intently atsomething outside the picture. The White House did not say whatthey were looking at.
According to officials who declined to be identified by name,bin Laden was shot in the head during a firefight, and his body wasidentified to near 100 percent certainty through DNA testing. Photoanalysis by the CIA, confirmation by a woman believed to be one ofbin Laden's wives, who was also at the compound, and matchingphysical features added confirmation, they said.
The only information about what occurred inside the compoundcame from American officials.
In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons, Khalid, was killed inthe raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden's wife was shot in the calf butsurvived, a U.S. official said. Also killed were two of bin Laden'sal-Qaida facilitators, including the one who was apparently listedas the owner of the residence, Brennan said.
Some individuals found at the compound were left behind when theSEALs withdrew and were turned over to Pakistani authorities whoquickly took over control of the site, officials said.
Within 40 minutes, the operation was over, and the SEALs flewout - minus one helicopter, which had malfunctioned and had to bedestroyed. Bin Laden's remains were flown to the USS Carl Vinson,then lowered into the North Arabian Sea.
There was one last nerve-wracking moment back inside the WhiteHouse, Brennan said, when the Pakistanis started scrambling theirjets and there was brief concern that the U.S. force might be indanger.
The decision to bury the body at sea drew condemnation from someMuslim clerics despite Obama's statement that the burial washandled in accordance with Islamic tradition.
"They can say they buried him at sea, but they cannot say theydid it according to Islam," said Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai'sgrand mufti. "Sea burials are permissible for Muslims inextraordinary circumstances. This is not one of them."
Bin Laden's death came 15 years after he declared war on theUnited States. Al-Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings oftwo U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and the 2000attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, aswell as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.
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