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Obama: “A Good Day for America”

May 2, 2011

More on official reactions and how it happened:

Key details:

•Obama: Bin Laden’s death means world is a safer place
•Al-Qaida leader killed in operation led by Navy SEALs, CIA forces
•DNA evidence: 100 percent certain it was bin Laden
•Bin Laden buried in Arabian Sea from USS Carl Vinson
•His compound was close to Pakistan army base
•Pakistan warns U.S. not to ‘spin’ Pakistani involvement

President Barack Obama declared Monday that the U.S. had “kept its commitment to justice,” saying the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was “a good day for America.”

In brief remarks before he led a ceremony honoring two Korean War veterans with the Medal of Honor, Obama said the world “is a safer place” today.

The remarks were the president’s first since he dramatically announced Sunday night that bin Laden, 54, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans, had been shot and killed earlier in the day in a firefight with U.S. forces at his luxury hideout in Pakistan.

Bin Laden died in a gunbattle with Navy SEALs and CIA paramilitary forces at a compound in the city of Abbottabad, U.S. officials told reporters.

In a background briefing with journalists, U.S. officials suggested that bin Laden opened fire on the U.S. forces. NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie, citing an unnamed U.S. official, reported that he was shot in the left eye.

The special operations forces were on the ground for less than 40 minutes, and the operation was watched in real time by CIA Director Leon Panetta and other intelligence officials in a conference room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., an official said on condition of anonymity.

The scene in the Situation Room

The team returned to Afghanistan with bin Laden’s body, U.S. officials said.

A senior official told NBC News that a DNA analysis had established with “100 percent certainty” that the body was bin Laden’s. One of bin Laden’s wives, who survived the firefight in the compound, also identified him, the official said.

A senior U.S. official told NBC News that bin Laden was later buried at sea from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea after a ritual washing and religious remarks in accordance with Muslim laws.

Islamic tradition calls for a body to be buried within 24 hours, but finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world’s most wanted terrorism who had long been officially rejected by his native Saudi Arabia, would have been difficult, a senior administration official said.

Other U.S. officials said the burial at sea deprived bin Laden’s adherents of a permanent memorial site to use as a rallying point.
..Other U.S. officials said one of bin Laden’s sons and two of his most trusted couriers also were killed, as was an unidentified woman who was used as a human shield.

Al Arabiya TV reported that two of bin Laden’s wives and four of his children were also captured during the operation.

‘A kill operation’
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. security official told Reuters that Navy SEALs dropped by helicopter to the compound were under orders not to capture bin Laden.

“This was a kill operation,” the official said.

PhotoBlog: Bin Laden ‘death photo’ a fake?

Intelligence officials were not certain that bin Laden would be at the site, as there was “no smoking gun that put him there,” NBC News reported. But bin Laden was indeed holed up in a two-story house 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy when four helicopters carrying U.S. forces swooped in .
Bin Laden’s guards opened fire on the commandos, and his final hiding place was left in flames, witnesses said.

One of the helicopters was forced to land unexpectedly because the steep walls of the compound left too little air beneath it to allow it to hover over the scene as planned, a senior administration official told NBC News’ Courtney Kube.

The same condition made it impossible for the helicopter to take off afterward, the official said, leading U.S. forces to destroy the craft on the ground to protect its technology and intelligence.

U.S. officials said no Americans were hurt in the operation.
 

Abbottabad is home to three Pakistan army regiments and thousands of military personnel and is dotted with military buildings. BBC News described the army site as the country’s equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

The discovery that bin Laden was living in an army town in Pakistan raised pointed questions about how he managed to evade capture and even whether Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership knew of his whereabouts and sheltered him.

 
The overall role of Pakistan, with which Washington has had a difficult relationship for years, remained unclear Monday. A senior Pakistani intelligence official told NBC News that Pakistani special forces took part in the operation, but senior U.S. and Pakistani officials said Pakistan was not informed of the attack in advance.

Pakistan’s first official statement about the operation Monday said that the death of bin Laden showed the resolve of Pakistan and of the world to battle terrorism and that it was “a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world.”

“This operation was conducted by the U.S. forces in accordance with declared U.S. policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the U.S. forces, wherever found in the world,” said the statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.

At the same time, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, in a meeting Monday that “sensitivities” over Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington “must be given due importance rather than giving it a spin,” the Islamabad newspaper Dawn reported.

Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan’s security establishment of protecting bin Laden, although Islamabad has always denied this.

Security ramped up in U.S.

The news of bin Laden’s death immediately raised concerns that reprisal attacks from al-Qaida and other Islamist extremist groups could follow soon.

“In the wake of this operation, there may be a heightened threat to the U.S. homeland,” a U.S. official said. “The U.S. is taking every possible precaution. The State Department has sent advisories to embassies worldwide and has issued a travel ban for Pakistan.”

Police in New York, site of the deadliest attack on Sept. 11, said they had already begun to “ramp up” security on their own.

Other local law enforcement agencies around the U.S. were adding extra security measures out of “an abundance of caution,” according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Video: State Department issues travel advisory

The agency said that the extra police were not a response to a specific threat and that facilities would operate normally.

In Los Angeles, police said they were stepping up intelligence monitoring, and in Philadelphia, a lieutenant said police were checking mosques and synagogues every hour.

‘Momentous achievement’

Charles Wolf of New York, whose wife, Katherine, died in the World Trade Center on Sept, 11, 2001, rejoiced at the news, which he called “wonderful.”

“I am really glad that man’s evil is off this earth forever,” Wolf said. “I am just very glad that they got him.”

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he had personally been informed by Obama of the death of the terrorist leader whose attacks forever defined his eight years in office.

“This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001,” the former president said.

Obama echoed his predecessor Sunday, declaring that “the death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s struggle to defeat al-Qaida.”

But he stressed that the effort against the organization continues. Al-Qaida remains in existence as an organization, presumably under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, 59, an Egyptian physician who is widely believed to have been bin Laden’s No. 2.
“We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad,” Obama said, while emphasizing that “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also said Monday that the death of bin Laden was not the end of the war on terrorism and warned the network’s members that the U.S. would be relentless in its pursuit of them.
Turning to deliver a direct message to bin Laden’s followers, she vowed: “You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us, but you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process.”

‘Affluent suburb’
Officials had long believed that bin Laden was hiding a mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In August, U.S. intelligence officials got a tip on his whereabouts, which led to the operation that culminated Sunday, Obama said Sunday.

How the U.S. found bin Laden

Bin Laden’s compound was huge and “extraordinarily unique,” about eight times larger than other homes in the area, U.S. officials said.

“It is also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it,” one of them said.

Few windows of the three-story home faced the outside of the compound, and other intense security measures included 12- to 18-foot outer walls topped with barbed wire and internal walls that sectioned off different parts of the compound, officials said.

Access was restricted to two security gates. Residents burned their trash, rather than leaving it for collection, as did their neighbors, officials said.

The sound of at least two explosions rocked Abbottabad as the fighting raged.

“After midnight, a large number of commandos encircled the compound. Three helicopters were hovering overhead. All of a sudden, there was firing toward the helicopters from the ground,” said Nasir Khan, a resident of the town.

“There was intense firing, and then I saw one of the helicopters crash,” said Khan, who had watched the dramatic scene unfold from his rooftop.

Reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death was swift.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered his appreciation to international and Afghan forces who have lost their lives in the nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan and expressed hope that bin Laden’s death could mean the end of terrorism.

But he also said now was the time to stop assaults that endanger or harass Afghan civilians, because the strike proved that the real fight against terrorists was outside his country’s borders.
Hundreds of people waved American flags at ground zero in New York — where the twin towers of the World Trade Center that once stood as symbols of American economic power were brought down by bin Laden’s hijackers 10 years ago.
Bonnie McEneaney, 57, whose husband, Eamon, died in the 9/11 attacks, said the death of bin Laden was “long overdue.”

“It doesn’t bring back all the wonderful people who were killed 10 years ago,” McEneaney told msnbc.com by phone from her home in New Canaan, Conn.

“I’m completely numb. I’m stunned,” she said.

Video: Cheney: ‘A great day’ for many

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama’s opponent in the 2008 election, said he was “overjoyed that we finally got the world’s top terrorist.”

“The world is a better and more just place now that Osama bin Laden is no longer in it,” McCain said in a statement. “I hope the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks will sleep easier tonight and every night hence knowing that justice has been done.”

Alex Johnson, Bill Dedman and JoNel Aleccia of msnbc.com; Andrea Mitchell, Jim Miklaszewski, Robert Windrem, Athena Jones, Pete Williams, Savannah Guthrie, Courtney Kube and Thomas Capra; Jonathan Dienst of NBC station WNBC of New York contributed to this report.

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