Washington: Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the most devastating attack on American soil in modern times and the most hunted man in the world, was killed in a firefight with United States forces in Pakistan on Sunday, President Obama announced.
In a dramatic late-night appearance in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama declared that "justice has been done" as he disclosed that American military and C.I.A. operatives had finally cornered the Al Qaeda leader who had eluded them for nearly a decade and shot him to death at a compound in Pakistan.
"For over two decades, Bin Laden has been Al Qaeda's leader and symbol," the president said in a statement carried on television around the world. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat Al Qaeda. But his death does not mark the end of our effort." He added: "We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad."
The death of Mr. Bin Laden is a defining moment in the American-led war on terrorism. What remains to be seen is whether the death of the leader of Al Qaeda galvanizes his followers by turning him into a martyr, or whether it serves as a turning of the page in the war in Afghanistan and gives further impetus to the Obama administration to bring American troops home.
The death of Mr. bin Laden came nearly 10 years after Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American passenger jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington and the countryside of Pennsylvania. Late Sunday night, as the president was speaking, cheering crowds gathered outside the gates of the White House shortly before midnight as word of his death began trickling out, waving United States flags, shouting in happiness and chanting "USA! USA!"
"This is important news for us, and for the world," said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, the airliner that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside after passengers fought with hijackers. "It cannot ease our pain, or bring back our loved ones. It does bring a measure of comfort that the mastermind of the September 11th tragedy and the face of global terror can no longer spread his evil."
Mr. bin Laden escaped from American troops in the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, back in 2001 and although he was widely believed to be in Pakistan, American intelligence had largely lost his trail for most of the years that followed until picking up a fresh trail last August. Mr. Obama said in his national address on Sunday night that it took months to firm up that information and last week he determined it was clear enough to authorize a secret operation in Pakistan.
The forces attacked the compound in what Mr. Obama called a "targeted operation" that left Mr. bin Laden dead. "No Americans were harmed," Mr. Obama said. "They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."
President Obama noted that the operation that killed Mr. Bin Laden was launched with the cooperation of Pakistani officials, but the fact that Mr. Bin Laden killed in an deep inside Pakistan was bound once again to raise questions about just how much Pakistan is willing to work with the United States, since Pakistani officials denied for years that Mr. Bin Laden was in their country.
The capture of Mr. Bin Laden comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan have fallen to their lowest point in memory as differences over how to fight al Qaeda linked militants became clearer.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, publicly criticized the Pakistani military two weeks ago for failing to act against extremists allied to al Qaeda who shelter in the Pakistani tribal areas of North Waziristan.
The United States has supported the Pakistani military with nearly $20 billion since 9/11 for counter terrorism campaigns but American officials have complained that the Pakistanis were unable to quell the militancy.
Last week, the head of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani told a Pakistanis that Pakistan had broken the back of terrorism in Pakistan, a statement that was received with high skepticism by American officials.