Musadeq Sadeq, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Proudly declaring the killing of Osama bin Laden "a good day for America," President Barack Obama said Monday the world was a safer place without the world's most hunted terrorist. DNA testing helped confirm that American forces in Pakistan had in fact killed the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials said, seeking to erase any doubt about the news that riveted the globe.
Acting on intelligence that bin Laden was holed up in a compound in the city of Abbottabad, Obama ordered a risky, unilateral mission to capture or kill the al-Qaida leader on foreign soil. His counterterror chief, John Brennan, said Monday that Obama had monitored the raid from the White House Situation Room and expressed relief that elite forces had finally gotten bin Laden without losing any more American lives.
"It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time in the lives of the people who were assembled here," Brennan said from the White House. "The minutes passed like days."
The dramatic developments came just months ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the hijacked-airliner assaults on the United States. Those attacks took nearly 3,000 lives, led the U.S. into war in Afghanistan and Iraq and forever pierced the notion that the most powerful country on earth could not be hit on such a ferocious scale.
U.S. officials grimly warned of potential retaliation for bin Laden's killing. Indeed, a top al-Qaida ideologue vowed revenge and said the Islamic holy war against the West was far from over.
The administration was investigating who within Pakistan provided support to bin Laden to allow him to live, remarkably, in a fortified compound in a town, not tucked away in a cave as often rumored. Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan's security establishment of protecting bin Laden, though Islamabad has always denied it, and did so again.
Bin Laden went down firing at the Navy SEALs who stormed his compound, a U.S. official said. Brennan said one of bin Laden's wives was used as a human shield to try to protect him and she was killed, too, as a result. Brennan, speaking of bin Laden, said that revealed "the nature of the individual he was."
The American forces killed bin Laden during a daring raid early Monday, Pakistan time, capping a search that spanned nearly a decade. Bin Laden was shot in the head during a firefight and then quickly buried at sea. White House officials were mulling the merits, consequences and appropriateness of releasing a photo of the slain bin Laden but said that no one should have any doubts regardless.
Senior administration officials said the DNA testing alone offered near 100 percent certainty. Photo analysis by the CIA, confirmation by a woman believed to be one of bin Laden's wives on site, and matching physical features like bin Laden's height all helped confirmed the identification.
"We are reminded that as a nation there is nothing we can't do," Obama said of the news, which was bound to lift his political standing and help define his presidency.
He hailed the pride of those who broke into overnight celebrations as word spread around the U.S. and the globe. Those spontaneous expressions have given way to questions about precisely what happened and what comes next for al-Qaida, for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, for America's strained relations with its Pakistani ally and for the direction of U.S. politics.
U.S. officials warned that the campaign against terrorism was not nearly over — and that the threat of deadly retaliation against the United States and its allies was real. However, the government said it had no specific or credible threat to share with the American public.
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