WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden is dead.
President Barack Obama made the dramatic late-night announcement Sunday from the East Room of the White House, ending the long, elusive international manhunt for the leader of the al Qaida terror organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"Justice has been done," Obama said in a 10-minute address shortly before midnight.
Bin Laden, 54, perhaps the most reviled man in the eyes of Americans, and much of the world, also was sought for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa.
A small team of U.S. operatives killed bin Laden Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in a suburb about 35 miles north of Islamabad, in a helicopter assault on the massive, heavily secured compound where he had been hiding. Abbottabad also is home of the Pakistan Military Academy — the equivalent of West Point in the U.S.
Bin Laden was shot dead, along with a man believed to be one of his adult sons. His most trusted courier also was killed, as was the courier's brother and a woman that one of the men tried to use as a human shield, senior administration officials said. The U.S. team took custody of bin Laden's body and confirmed his identity, Obama said. The body was buried at sea, U.S. officials said early Monday.
The president said a possible lead to bin Laden's whereabouts emerged in August, but took "many months" to run down. He determined last week that there was enough intelligence to take action, he said and gave the order at 8:20 a.m. Friday to take bin Laden.
Celebratory crowds flocked outside the gates of the White House late Sunday and into early Monday, waving American flags and singing the national anthem. Lawmakers from both political parties praised U.S. intelligence, armed forces and Obama, even as they said it didn't end the threat from al Qaida and Islamic terrorism.
The Middle East woke up to the news of bin Laden's death, which broke around the time of the dawn Islamic prayer. Arabic-language channels interrupted their broadcasts with the news. Al Jazeera's Arabic channel juxtaposed live footage of the celebration outside the White House in Washington with archived video of a serene, smiling bin Laden at a wedding.
"The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam," Obama said. "Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."
Only U.S. personnel were involved in the raid, and Obama's decision to launch it wasn't shared with any other country, including Pakistan, whose most powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, has long been suspected by U.S. officials of maintaining links to extremist groups close to al Qaida.
One senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy, indicated that the U.S. was pursuing with the Pakistani government the question of whether any Pakistani officials were aware of bin Laden's presence. "We are very concerned that he was inside Pakistan," he said.
There was no immediate move to raise the national terror-alert level in the U.S., although some politicians expressed concerns. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a freshman lawmaker, said on Twitter: "We must be ready for retaliation from Islamic world."
Bin Laden has been the target of history's most intense international manhunt, an operation that's focused on the remote tribal areas of Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
While bin Laden's death will represent a major blow to the international terrorist network that he led, U.S. officials have long said that it will not end the threat of Islamic extremism because al Qaida has metastasized into lethal branches based in Yemen and North Africa, and has inspired militants around the world.
Bin Laden's death also represents a major boost for Obama coming as he struggles with an uncertain economic recovery and mixed public sentiment about the U.S. approach to civilian uprisings in Libya through the Middle East and North Africa. Even as Obama jabbed Donald Trump in a domestic politics monologue at Saturday night's celebrity studded White House Correspondents' Association dinner, he knew the mission to take bid Laden was under way.
But bin Laden's death is unlikely to alter the course of the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, where U.S. troops remain at war and where al Qaida has been playing a secondary role to the Taliban and allied militant groups.
Vice President Joe Biden notified several lawmakers by phone Sunday evening. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he guessed why Biden might be calling him. "Did we get the bastard?" Graham asked, and Biden responded: "We got him."
Graham, the only member of Congress to have served active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, said bin Laden's death was deeply satisfying.
"The message of this event is that if you choose to do harm to the American people and try to destroy our way of life, there is no place to hide and no passage of time will keep you safe," Graham said. On Arabic television, experts were divided about the impact on the al Qaida terrorist network. Some said the "martyrdom" of bin Laden could win new recruits and inject new life into an organization that had grown increasingly irrelevant, especially in the wake of Arab revolts in which ordinary people — not Islamist groups and not foreign governments — demanded greater freedoms from authoritarian governments.
Other commentators, however, said al Qaida already had evolved into a mostly leaderless group that's loosely organized via the Internet with self-declared "members" acting independently around the globe.
(Hannah Allam in Cairo; special correspondents Saeed Shah in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Hashim Shukoor in Kabul, Afghanistan; and James Rosen, Lesley Clark and David Lightman in Washington contributed to this story.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY