Osama Bin Laden was killed in a firefight while resisting the small U.S. assault force that raided his huge, well-fortified compound in a wealthy suburb north of Islamabad, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters early this morning.
Along with Bin Laden, who was living in the compound with his family, two couriers of his and one of his adult sons were also killed. A woman was killed when she was used as a shield by one of the men. Osama was reportedly killed with a bullet to the head.
No Americans were harmed. The operation was entirely a U.S. affair. No other country was alerted, including Pakistan. The Pakistanis were told afterward, the senior officials said.
The compound was built in 2005, likely for the purpose of harboring Bin Laden, but it is not clear how long Bin Laden had been living there, though it appears it was months and probably years.
Officials described what was likely an extraordinarily perilous operation. Four helicopters entered the compound, and a team of U.S. military operatives was on the ground for about 40 minutes completing the mission. One of the choppers failed, but everyone got out on the others.
The compound was a huge residence with twelve to eighteen foot high walls topped with barbed wire.
The planning for the raid took months.
The operation was the result of years of intelligence legwork that had its origins in the Bush administration and accelerated in the last two years as analysts zeroed in on Bin Laden’s location.
Officials many years ago were told by al Qaeda detainees about a highly trusted courier for Bin Laden. Four years ago, they uncovered his identity. About two years ago, they identified the area in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated.
In August 2010, U.S. officials identified the compound where the two brothers, their families, and a third family lived. The third family matched what was believed to be the composition of Bin Laden’s.
Adding to their belief that a high value terrorist – likely Bin Laden – was at the compound were the extreme security measure being taken there, the lack of internet or telephone service in the buildings, a seven foot privacy wall on one terrace, and the lack of any apparent source of income by the two brothers.
Officials eventually determined that it was highly likely Bin Laden was living there with his family, including his youngest wife.
Bin Laden’s body is being handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition, the officials said.
They warned that there might be a heightened threat to the homeland in the days to come, either from al Qaeda operatives hoping to exact revenge or other terrorists who may decided to accelerate planned attacks.