By Sam Youngman - 05/02/11 10:39 AM EDT
U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden during a firefight in Pakistan on Sunday, President Obama announced.
Almost a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Obama said Sunday a small team of U.S. forces killed the al Qaeda leader, who was holed up not in a cave but in a mansion in an affluent part of Abbottabad, a city about 30 miles north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
Obama said no U.S. citizens were harmed in the attack and that the U.S. has possession of bin Laden's body. It was later reported that his body was buried at sea.
"We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad," Obama said.
On Monday, Obama told the nation "the world is safer" with bin Laden dead. He also declared it a "good day for America."
NBC News said Monday morning the administration was deciding whether to release video evidence of bid Laden's death.
Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official, said the administration would likely be forced to release photos to debunk conspiracy theories that bin Laden is not really dead. "I think they will be forced to put out the pictures," Scheuer, who headed the initial CIA unit aimed at capturing or killing bin Laden, said on C-SPAN.
Crowds gathered near the White House and at ground zero in New York overnight to celebrate the death of bin Laden, who had eluded the U.S. for more than a decade. Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden had been involved in terrorist attacks on the U.S.
"Americans understand the costs of war," Obama said. "Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. ... And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done."
Obama said he authorized a U.S. mission to go after bin Laden on Friday.
The president said he initially received intelligence last August about a potential way to catch or kill bin Laden, but said then it was "far from certain."
Obama said that "last week, I determined we had enough intelligence to take action."
Obama said U.S. forces launched a targeted operation Sunday at the president's direction, taking care to avoid civilian casualties.
The White House offered more details after the president's remarks.
Officials said Obama made the decision to undertake the operation on Friday, just before he boarded Air Force One for Alabama to review damage from a string of tornadoes that hit the state.
National Security Adviser Tom Donilon worked with other principals on the plan after Obama made the decision.
On Sunday, principals went to the White House Situation Room at 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m., Obama met with them to review the final preparations. At 3:32 p.m., he returned to the Situation Room for an additional briefing and learned at 3:50 p.m. that bin Laden had been "tentatively identified" as among the people killed in the operation.
At 7:01 p.m. Sunday, Obama learned that there was a "high probability" that the high-value target was bin Laden.
Obama convened at least nine meetings on the operation, and was "actively involved in reviewing all facets of the operation," the White House said.
More from The Hill on the killing of Osama bin Laden:
Where he was hiding | Obama calls Bush, Clinton
Statements: Boehner | Reid | Cantor | Hoyer | McKeon
Kerry | Rogers | Lugar | Wasserman Schultz | McCain | Schumer
Though Obama credited Pakistan with offering help in finding bin Laden's compound, the fact that bin Laden was hiding in that country will raise questions about the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Obama did not make clear whether Pakistan was aware of or had given explicit permission for Sunday's mission, but senior administration officials told reporters early Monday morning that Pakistani officials were not notified about the intelligence that indicated bin Laden was hiding on their soil or about the raid to take him out.
"Over the years I have made clear that we would take action in Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we have done," Obama said.
He then added that Pakistan's government agreed that "this is a good and historic day for both our nations."
Obama took great effort to underline that the U.S. was not at war with Islam. He said bin Laden had murdered Muslims and "his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."
The terrorist attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 led to a global war on terrorism and an invasion of Afghanistan, with U.S. forces remaining in the country nearly 10 years later. The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, had given shelter to bin Laden.
In running for president in 2008, Obama criticized the administration of George W. Bush for starting an unnecessary war in Iraq and taking its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, which Obama judged to be a more important war because of its direct connection to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Obama called Bush on Sunday to inform him that the man Bush wanted "dead or alive" had been killed.
In a statement, Bush said he "congratulated [Obama] and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission."
"They have our everlasting gratitude," Bush said. "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 Sept. 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
The group of Republicans hoping to succeed Obama as president also released statements. Some praised Obama, while others did not mention the president.
Most Democrats, for their part, did not mention Bush's efforts to find bin Laden.
A CIA official told The Hill earlier this year it was highly unlikely that bin Laden would be captured alive.
"The odds of bin Laden and Zawahiri being captured alive are about as good as vodka losing favor among Russians,” the official said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the killing of bin Laden very "important news."
"The Taliban must learn a lesson from this. The Taliban should refrain from fighting," he said, according to al Jazeera English. "The war against terrorism is in its sources, in its financial sources, its sanctuaries, in its training bases, not in Afghanistan."
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of NATO, called bin Laden's killing "a significant success for the security of NATO allies and all the nations which have joined us in our efforts to combat the scourge of global terrorism to make the world a safer place for all of us."
This story was last updated at 12:29 p.m.