By the CNN Wire Staff, May 2, 2011 — Updated 1306 GMT (2106 HKT)
- NEW: The operation was designed to kill bin Laden, a source says
- DNA matching is under way, a U.S. official says
- Intelligence work on a bin Laden courier led to a key break
- Hundreds celebrate in front of the White House and in New York
(CNN) — The operation that killed Osama bin Laden was designed to do just that, not to take him alive, a U.S. government official told CNN Monday.
DNA matching is under way on samples from the body of the slain terrorist leader, the official said. There are photographs of the body with a gunshot wound to the side of the head that shows an individual who is not unrecognizable as bin Laden, the official said.
No decision has yet been made on whether to release the photographs and if so, when and how.
The mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil was killed by U.S. forces Monday in a mansion in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, U.S. officials said.
Four others in the compound also were killed. One of them was bin Laden’s adult son, and another was a woman being used as a shield by a male combatant, the officials said.
Bin Laden’s body was later buried at sea, an official said. Many Muslims adhere to the belief that bodies should be buried within one day.
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The official did not release additional details about the burial, but said it was handled in keeping with Muslim customs.
The death of the founder and leader of al Qaeda comes almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
In an address to the nation Sunday night, U.S. President Barack Obama called bin Laden’s death “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.” Washington is nine hours behind Pakistan.
“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Obama said. “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
A congressional source familiar with the operation said bin Laden was shot in the head.
The killing of bin Laden was the culmination of years of intelligence work and months of following a specific lead, senior U.S. administration officials said.
The key break involved one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden, according to the officials. About two years ago, intelligence work identified where the courier and his brother lived and operated in Pakistan, and it took until August to find the compound in Abbottabad that was raided, they said.
According to the senior administration officials, intelligence work determined at the beginning of 2011 that bin Laden might be located at the compound.
Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings from mid-March until late April, with the last two on April 19 and April 28 — last Thursday.
On Friday morning — even as he visited Alabama’s tornado-ravaged areas — Obama gave the order for the mission, the officials said.
Senior Obama administration officials believe the compound was built five years ago for the specific purpose of hiding bin Laden. U.S. forces carried out several so-called “practice runs” in order to minimize casualties.
Footage that aired Monday on CNN affiliate GEO TV showed fire and smoke spewing from the compound where bin Laden was killed.
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One resident in the city of Lahore said Monday she was stunned to hear bin Laden was in the country.
“But was it really him?” the woman said.
A senior national security official told CNN that officials had multiple confirmations that the body was bin Laden’s, saying they had the “ability to run images of the body and the face.”
A resident in Abbottabad, who did not want to be fully identified, said he was wary of making any personal statements or giving his reaction to the news. But he said the house where bin Laden allegedly was killed has been occupied by many people for the past five years.
Half a world away, the scene outside the White House was one of pure jubilation.
Hundreds reveled through the night, chanting “USA! USA!” Others chanted “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” in reference to the demise of bin Laden. Many also spontaneously sang the national anthem.
In New York, a cheering crowd gathered at ground zero — the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before bin Laden’s terrorist group flew two planes into the buildings on September 11, 2001. Strains of “God Bless America” could be heard intermittently trickling through the crowd.
One former New York firefighter — forced to retire due to lung ailments suffered as a result of the dust from ground zero — said he was there to let the 343 firefighters who died in the attacks know “they didn’t die in vain.”
“It’s a war that I feel we just won,” he said. “I’m down here to let them know that justice has been served.”
Bob Gibson, a retired New York police officer, said the news of bin Laden’s death gave him a sense of “closure.”
“I never thought this night would come, that we would capture or kill bin Laden,” he said. “And thank the Lord he has been eliminated.”
The news also brought some relief to family members of those killed on 9/11.
“This is important news for us, and for the world,” said Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on 9/11. “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.”
Bin Laden eluded capture for years, once reportedly slipping out of a training camp in Afghanistan just hours before a barrage of U.S. cruise missiles destroyed it.
He had been implicated in a series of deadly, high-profile attacks that had grown in their intensity and success during the 1990s. They included a deadly firefight with U.S. soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 224 in August 1998, and an attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in October 2000.
In his speech, Obama reiterated that the United States is not fighting Islam.
“I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims,” Obama said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, welcomed the death of bin Laden.
“As we have stated repeatedly since the 9/11 terror attacks, bin Laden never represented Muslims or Islam. In fact, in addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide,” the statement said.
While the death of bin Laden “is a significant victory,” the war on terrorism is not over, said Frances Fragos Townsend, former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush.
“We’ve been fighting these fractured cells. We’ve seen the U.S. government, military and intelligence officials deployed around the world,” Townsend said. “By no means are these other cells nearly as dangerous as he is, but we will continue to have to fight in chaotic places.”
U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world were placed on high alert following the announcement of bin Laden’s death, a senior U.S. official said, and the U.S. State Department issued a “worldwide caution” for Americans.
The travel alert warned of the “enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.” Some fear al Qaeda supporters may try to retaliate against U.S. citizens or U.S. institutions.
But for now, many Americans were soaking up the historic moment.
“It’s what the world needed,” said Dustin Swensson, a military veteran Iraq and joined the revelers outside the White House. “(I’ll) always remember where I was when the towers went down, and I’m always going to remember where I am now.”
CNN’s Ed Henry, Elise Labott, Jeanne Meserve, Holly Yan, Aliza Kassim and David Ariosto contributed to this report