The killing of the terrorism mastermind who had eluded U.S. forces for nearly a decade drew a spontaneous, cheering crowd outside the White House gates and at New York’s Ground Zero, the site of al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies,” a somber Obama said in his nine-minute statement that aired live on television worldwide. “We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.”
Bin Laden’s killing will provide a clear moment of victory for Obama at a time of deep political turmoil overseas that is upending long-standing U.S. policy in much of the Muslim world, particularly the Middle East.
It also comes nearly 10 years after bin Laden orchestrated the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, when al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked three passenger jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed a fourth jet in rural Shanksville, Pa.
“Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people,” Obama said. “The cause of securing our country is not complete, but tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever it is we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.”
The discovery that bin Laden had been hiding in a well-populated part of Pakistan, rather than a remote location, raised new questions about the extent to which Pakistan is cooperating with the United States in combating terrorism.
U.S. forces flew to bin Laden’s hideout in helicopters about 1 a.m. Monday (late Sunday afternoon in Washington). Bin Laden was shot in the head after he and his guards resisted the U.S. attackers, the Associated Press reported. U.S. personnel identified him by facial recognition.
A U.S. official said bin Laden’s body was quickly transported away from Pakistan and “buried at sea,” in part because the U.S. government did not want an accessible gravesite that could become a shrine to bin Laden’s followers. The official declined to identify which body of water the corpse was taken to, or provide further details on how it was transported or handled.
The official said the body was buried “in accordance with Islamic tradition,” meaning within 24 hours of bin Laden’s death. No information was available as to whether Muslim prayers were recited or the body was ritually washed, as is usually required by Islamic law. In general, burial at sea means tipping the body overboard — wrapped, likely, in a shroud — after a brief service.