The White House, Pete Souza, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden, the elusive terror mastermind killed by Navy SEALs in an intense firefight, was hunted down based on information first gleaned years ago from detainees at secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe, officials disclosed Monday. The U.S. said a DNA match proved his identity, and millions of Americans rejoiced.
After the gunfire, U.S. forces swept bin Laden's fortified compound in Pakistan and left with a trove of hard drives, DVDs and other documents that officials said the CIA was already poring over. The hope: clues leading to his presumed successor, al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden," declared President Barack Obama, hours after U.S. forces killed the al-Qaida leader. They then ferried the body out for a quick burial at sea.
Bin Laden's death after a decade on the run unloosed a national wave of euphoria mixed with remembrance for the thousands who died in the Sept. 11 2001, terror attacks. Crowds celebrated throughout the night outside the White House and at ground zero in Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood. Thousands of students at Penn State University and in other college towns spilled into the streets and set off firecrackers to mark the moment.
"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 flight attendant aboard the hijacked plane that was flown into the World Trade Center North Tower. "It certainly brings an ending to a major quest for all of us."
Halfway around the world, a prominent al-Qaida commentator vowed revenge for bin Laden's death. "Woe to his enemies. By God, we will avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam," he wrote under his online name Assad al-Jihad2. "Those who wish that jihad has ended or weakened, I tell them: Let us wait a little bit."
U.S. officials conceded the risk of renewed attack. The terrorists "almost certainly will attempt to avenge" bin Laden's death, CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote in a memo that congratulated the agency for its role in the operation. "Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida is not."
There were questions, as well, about Pakistan's role in bin Laden's years in hiding. Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said 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, told reporters it was inconceivable that the terrorist fugitive didn't have some support in Pakistan, where his hideout had been custom built six years ago in a city with a heavy military presence. "I am not going to speculate about what type of support he might have had on an official basis," he added.
Others were not as reticent.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pakistani Army and intelligence agency "have a lot of questions to answer, given the location, the length of time and the apparent fact that this was actually — this facility was actually built for bin Laden, and its closeness to the central location of the Pakistani army."
By their condemnations, bin Laden's supporters confirmed his death in what U.S. officials said was an operation years in the making. Even so, officials were weighing the release of at least one photo taken of bin Laden's body as part of what Brennan called an effort to make sure "nobody has any basis to try and deny" the death.
U.S. officials said the information that ultimately led to bin Laden's capture originally came from detainees held in secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe. There, agency interrogators were told of an alias used by a courier whom bin Laden particularly trusted.
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