Throughout the afternoon Sunday, Obama met with senior officials in the Situation Room for briefings on the operation. At 3:50 p.m., Obama learned that bin Laden was tentatively identified, and the president remained “actively involved in all facets of the operation, ” a senior administration official said.
The operation hinged almost entirely on the hunt for a single man: a courier working out of Pakistan who had been trusted by bin Laden for years.
U.S. analysts and operatives spent years figuring out the courier’s identity, senior administration officials said, concluding that he was a former protege of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The courier “had our constant attention,” one official said.
Detainees “identified this man as one of the few al-Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden, [and] indicated he might be living with or protecting bin Laden,” the official said. But until four years ago, the United States was unable to track the courier down or uncover his real name. In 2009, U.S. officials narrowed down the region in Pakistan where the courier was working, senior administration officials said.
Then, in August, U.S. officials found the compound that turned out to be bin Laden’s hiding spot. It was described as an extraordinary place, with 12- to 18-foot security walls, multiple interior walls dividing the property and massive privacy walls blocking even a third-story balcony.
“When we saw the compound ... we were shocked by what we saw,” the official told reporters, describing it as “an extraordinarily unique compound,” built perhaps in 2005 and expressly for bin Laden. “Everything we saw ... was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like.”
A senior official said the property, valued at $1 million, had no Internet or phone service. But photos of the property appeared to show a satellite dish at the property — a discrepancy that was not immediately explained.
Bin Laden’s capture offered a sense of closure for families of those lost in the 2001 attacks. Basmattie Bishundat, whose son, Kris Romeo Bishundat, died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, was glued to her television in the Maryland suburb Waldorf in the early hours of Monday, wishing she could join the revelers at the White House.
“I cannot believe it, finally,” Bishundat murmured as she watched the pictures from the White House on CNN. “All kinds of emotions. Finally, a sense of closure. Finally, they’ve got the person who started all of this mess.”