“All non-combatants were moved safely away from the compound before the detonation” of the helicopter, a U.S. official said.
U.S. government facilities around the world were placed on heightened alert after the raid, while the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert warning of “enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.”
CIA director Leon E. Panetta told his agency that terror groups around the world “almost certainly will attempt to avenge” bin Laden’s death.
“We must — and will — remain vigilant and resolute,” Panetta wrote in a congratulatory memo. “But we have struck a heavy blow against the enemy. The only leader they have ever known, whose hateful vision gave rise to their atrocities, is no more. The supposedly uncatchable one has been caught and killed.”
Years in the making
The secret operation that culminated with bin Laden’s death was years in the making. For most of the past decade, bin Laden was thought to be hiding in Pakistan, but American intelligence had lost his trail until picking up fresh intelligence of his possible whereabouts last August.
After months of studying intelligence and reviewing operational plans, Obama gave the order on Friday morning for the action that ended in bin Laden’s death. The operation took place in Abbottabad, a city of about 100,000 in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, about 65 miles north of Islamabad. Named for a British military officer who founded it as a military cantonment and summer retreat, it is the headquarters of a brigade of the Pakistan army’s 2nd Division.
A Special Operations team conducted the mission based on CIA intelligence, some of which was obtained from detainees in U.S. custody, according to senior U.S. officials who detailed the operation under the condition of anonymity.
“We’ve been staring at the compound for months trying to figure out for sure whether we had enough to go with,” one official said. Operatives have “been working this target for years, years, years. They finally found the guy who led to the guy who led to the guy who led to the guy, and this is it.”
Beginning in September, the CIA began to work with Obama on a set of intelligence assessments, which led him to believe that it was possible that bin Laden might be located at the compound.
By mid-February, Obama determined that there was a sound intelligence basis for pursuing this theory and developing courses of action in case it proved correct. He held five National Security meetings in the second half of March to discuss potential action.