The U.S. special operations forces who killed Osama bin Laden didn’t know for sure he was in a fortified villa near Islamabad until they swooped in and came face to face with the world’s most wanted terrorist.
While U.S. intelligence officers had concluded there was a “strong probability” bin Laden was living in the compound near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, all they could be positive about was that it was occupied by a high-value individual, unidentified officials said at a White House briefing. The military’s target was a specially built property in the city full of retired military 35 miles northeast of Islamabad.
The U.S. team was on site for less than 40 minutes, and bin Laden was killed resisting the assault, an official said. Three other men, one of whom may have been one of bin Laden’s sons, were killed in the raid along with a woman used as a human shield. Two women were injured. No other civilians or U.S. personnel were injured, said the officials, who spoke on condition there wouldn’t be identified.
“We heard a loud explosion and then the sound of guns firing,” said Iqbal Alam Khan, 37, who works as a merchant in the town of Abbottabad where the assault took place. “It came from Bilal Town,” a property development of newly built villas and mansions about two miles from the center of Abbottabad, he said in a phone interview.
“We didn’t know the cause of the fighting and we didn’t go outside to see because it was the middle of the night,” Khan said.
One helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after it was grounded by a mechanical failure. U.S. officials wouldn’t say how many men were involved in the operation, describing it as a surgical strike by a small team. Bin Laden’s body was taken out of the country by the assault team and later buried at sea, another official said.
DNA test proved that the body was bin Laden’s, another administration official said. Obama was shown a photograph of bin Laden’s body, the official said.
Pakistan’s ARY News television broadcast footage of U.S. helicopters firing on the building’s rooftop, and also showed images inside the house of blood stained carpets and mattresses in a bedroom.
U.S. intelligence agencies discovered the compound by tracking a trusted courier who captured terrorists had said was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Officials learned the courier’s identity in 2007 and in 2009 located areas of Pakistan where the man and his brother operated. Because of the security steps they took, their location couldn’t be pinpointed until August when the compound in Abbottabad was found.
Officials said they were shocked by the compound’s characteristics: built in 2005, it was eight-times larger than other homes in the area and worth $1 million. The three-story main house was surrounded by high-walls topped with barbed wire and two security gates restricting access.
Residents of the compound burned their trash, unlike their neighbors, and there were no internet of phone connections.
Altaf Khan, 35, a nearby resident, said the house looked like a fort. There were closed-circuit cameras all around it and the women living inside the house used to speak in Arabic, he said at his house.
The U.S. officials eventually concluded that the compound was hosting a high-value al Qaeda target, and there was a strong possibility that bin Laden himself was there.
Obama was told of this new information in August and by February of this year U.S. officials had come to the conclusion that bin Laden was likely living at the compound and planning began for a raid.
Obama gave the go ahead for the operation early in the morning of April 29, according to one of the officials. The final planning for it was reviewed yesterday at 2 p.m. during a meeting in the White House Situation Room.
U.S. officials said they didn’t share their intelligence with any other country, and informed Pakistani officials only when the operation was over.
Express 24/7, a Lahore, Pakistan-based television station, showed video footage of what it said was a compound in Abbottabad in flames.
The city of about 100,000 people is the center of a region dominated by army facilities and weapons factories. The city, named for the British colonial officer who founded it, has avoided the terrorist attacks that have struck Lahore, Karachi and other major Pakistani cities.