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Osama bin Laden, the elusive leader of the al Qaeda terrorist organization and mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, has been killed in a firefight in Pakistan, President Obama announced in a late-night address from the White House Sunday evening. “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 president said.
U.S. special forces were acting on a lead developed last August that suggested bin Laden may have been hiding “deep inside of Pakistan,” Obama said. “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.”
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American special forces found bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, a quiet garrison town north of Islamabad and well beyond the mountainous border region where he was long believed to have been hiding. “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability,” Obama said. After cornering the elusive al Qaeda leader, perhaps the most hunted man in the world, U.S. special forces stormed the compound in what Obama called a “targeted operation” and shot bin Laden to death. “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
A DNA test has confirmed bin Laden’s identity, administration officials said. His body was buried at sea.
Obama called bin Laden’s death “the most significant achievement to date” in American’s ten-year-long war against terrorism and, specifically, its fight against al Qaeda. “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,” Obama said. “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.”
“Justice has been done,” he added.
Reaction to the news poured in from public officials around the world. Former President George W. Bush called the killing of the terrorist leader a “momentous achievement.” British Prime Minister David Cameron said the news was “a great relief.” And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called bin Laden’s death “a critically important victory for our nation.”
“New Yorkers have waited nearly ten years for this news,” Bloomberg said. “It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
The news comes amid widespread unrest in the Arab world that many say has already marginalized al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations, as protesters challenge autocratic regimes and call for democratic reforms. The announcement is also certain to serve as a boost for the beleaguered U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, which suffered debilitating setbacks in recent months, including a daring prison escape last week that allowed hundreds of Taliban fighters to go free.
In the wider Arab world, bin Laden’s death may serve to further sideline al Qaeda, which has already struggled to remain relevant amid the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere. In Libya especially, analysts feared the possibility of a military stalemate and the possible creeping influence of al Qaeda among the opposition. It’s not clear whether bin Laden’s death will ease those concerns, or whether it will have any discernible impact on the terrorist organization’s daily operations and ability to launch attacks overseas.
The global intelligence firm Stratfor posted a brief analysis on its website Sunday evening speculating that bin Laden’s death could “trigger action by al Qaeda in bin Laden’s name.” The symbolic significance of bin Laden’s death, however, is “obvious,” the firm said. The news could also ease political pressure on President Obama as he seeks to draw down America’s military commitment in Afghanistan.
“It is difficult to understand what this means at this moment, but it permits the Obama administration to claim victory, at least partially, over al Qaeda,” the firm wrote. “It also opens the door for the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, regardless of the practical impact of bin Laden’s death. The mission in Afghanistan was to defeat al Qaeda, and with his death, a plausible claim can be made that the mission is complete.”