The leader of al Qaeda and the chief architect of the Sept. 11 terror attacks was assassinated by U.S. forces on May 1, The New York Times reported.
Bin Laden was the head of al Qaeda when the terrorist network hijacked four passenger planes on Sept. 11, 2001. Two planes smashed into the World Trade Center in New York and one hit the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth hijacked jet crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside after passengers fought the militants. When the attack was over, both towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed and nearly 3,000 people had perished.
After receiving intelligence on the whereabouts of the Saudi-born zealot, President Barack Obama approved a “targeted assault” on bin Laden’s highly-fortified $1 million compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. A firefight ensued during the operation that left the world’s most wanted terrorist dead. The U.S. operatives then took possession of the body and confirmed bin Laden’s identity.
No Americans were killed in the attack, however three adult males died in Sunday’s raid, including one of bin Laden’s sons, The Associated Press reported. A woman reportedly used as a human shield by a male combatant was also killed.
“On nights like this one,” Obama said, “we can say that justice has been done.”
THE PRESIDENT’S REMARKS
Here is the text of President Obama’s speech announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden:
Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.
On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.
We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda — an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.
Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.
Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.
And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.
Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. 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 of 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.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.
For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’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 Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
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. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.
So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.
Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.
And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. 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.
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
Celebrations at Ground Zero in New York. (Photo by Brian Kusler.)
News of bin Laden’s death prompted boisterous celebrations at Ground Zero, in Times Square and in front of the White House. Despite the late hour, thousands gathered to wave American flags, sing anthems and share the knowledge that the country’s No. 1 enemy was dead.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands, but it is a critically important victory for our nation — and a tribute to the millions of men and women in our armed forces and elsewhere who have fought so hard for our nation,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated. “New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
President Obama called former President George W. Bush on Sunday night to share the news that U.S. forces had killed bin Laden, The Associated Press reported. Bush congratulated the president, as well as the men and women of the military and intelligence communities.
“This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001,” Bush said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said bin Laden’s death would “bring great relief to people across the world,” AFP reported. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Obama, calling the assassination a “victory for justice, liberty and the common values of democratic nations which fought side by side against terrorism.” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard welcomed the news but cautioned: “Whilst al Qaeda has been hurt today, al Qaeda is not finished. Our war against terrorism must continue.”
According to The Washington Post, the U.S. State Department placed diplomatic facilities across the globe on high alert overnight and issued a travel alert, warning Americans of “enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.”
WHO WAS BIN LADEN?
Born in Saudi Arabia in 1957, Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden was the 17th of 52 children and the only son of tenth wife Hamida al-Attas. His father, Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden, became a billionaire after building his company into the largest construction firm in the Saudi kingdom.
As a young man, bin Laden attended King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, studying business and economics, CNN reported. He was always interested in religion, but his spiritual journey refocused into a political quest for power after coming under the wing of Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam. According to Time Magazine, Azzam founded an organization to help the mujahedeen fighting to repel the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In 1979, his protegee became the organization’s top financier. At 22, bin Laden volunteered to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan; in the second half of the war, he learned how to shoot and how to lead.
In 1988, bin Laden formed al Qaeda, an international organization that operates as a stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement. The goal of al Qaeda is to advance Islamic revolutions throughout the Muslim world and to repel foreign intervention in the Middle East, The Anti-Defamation League reported. This last goal was particularly important to bin Laden, who became incensed when the United States sent troops to Saudi Arabia for battle against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.
After the war ended and American troops did not leave Saudi Arabia, bin Laden issued a “fatwa,” or a religious order, entitled “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf states “will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land,” it said. In the late 1990s, bin Laden declared a “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the United States and issued a new fatwa against all Americans, including civilians.
Bin Laden didn’t just incite violence, though. He orchestrated it. According to the FBI, bin Laden was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed over 200 people. He was implicated in a deadly firefight with U.S. soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and in the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in 2000. Most importantly, he was suspected of planning the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in 2001.
Although the U.S. offered a $25 million reward for information leading to the apprehension or conviction of bin Laden, he was able to elude authorities for nearly 10 years. The world’s most wanted man would occasionally release audio and video tapes to boost support for al Qaeda and to remind the world that he was still alive, albeit in hiding, but the U.S. eventually lost track of him. While many in the intelligence community believed he was hiding in the caves of Pakistan near the Afghan border, coalition troops never found a trace of the 6-foot-4 terror leader.
Bin Laden’s radicalism eventually cost him his Saudi citizenship, Forbes reported. His brothers and sisters disowned him and cut off access to his inheritance. Yet his obsession with imposing Islamic rule throughout the region was all-consuming.
In his private life, bin Laden had a passion for poetry, farming and horses. He married four women and is believed to have fathered 25 or 26 children, CNN reported, though he lost all contact with his eldest son Abdullah when the teen swore allegiance to the Saudi regime.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden told his followers that his greatest hope was that if he died at the hands of the Americans, the Muslim world would rise up and defeat the nation that had killed him.
The U.S. killed bin Laden on May 1. He was 54.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR AL QAEDA?
Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is likely to succeed Osama bin Laden, Reuters reported. The Egyptian-born surgeon is believed to be the chief organizer of al Qaeda and bin Laden’s closest mentor.
Zawahri has released dozens of messages since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The latest broadcast, which was disseminated last month, urged Muslims to fight NATO and American troops who are protecting civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.