UPDATED 8:19 a.m. EDT
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the number one most-wanted fugitive for nearly a decade, was killed in Pakistan Sunday, the White House announced.
President Barack Obama made a live statement shortly after 11:30 p.m. Sunday from the East Room of the White House.
“Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children,” he began.
The U.S. received an intelligence lead last August about bin Laden’s whereabouts, Obama said, and that he had enough information this week to launch a targeted military operation on the compound pinpointed as bin Laden’s location, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A senior administration official said that Obama has chaired five National Security Council meetings specifically about this operation since mid-March, and gave the final go-ahead the morning of April 29.
“A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability,” Obama said. “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.”
Senior officials said that bin Laden’s body was handled in accordance with Islamic tradition, and Politico reported, citing officials, that his body was buried at sea to avoid a shrine to the terrorist leader. Islamic law dictates that bodies be buried within 24 hours of death.
White House officials described the operation as a “surgical raid,” carried out by Navy SEALs in helicopters who rehearsed the operation to avoid civilian casualties. Osama bin Laden resisted the assault and was killed in the ensuing firefight, as were three other adult males — two al-Qaeda couriers, and a man officials believe was bin Laden’s adult son.
One woman who was used as a human shield was killed, and two other women were injured.
Crowds gathered outside the White House, at New York City’s Ground Zero and around the country after the speech, waving flags and singing the National Anthem. U.S. diplomatic centers are reportedly on high alert in case of retaliation, and the State Department has issued a travel advisory for Pakistan.
Senior administration officials said they believed bin Laden’s death will be key in the destabilization and decline of al-Qaeda.
Obama stressed that the nearly decade-long War on Terror has never been a war on Islam. He thanked intelligence officials and counterterrorism professionals for their work over the years.
“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. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. 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.”
Read Raw Story’s breaking news liveblog from Sunday night for a timelines and more details.