I've pieced together what is known this morning about how Osama bin Laden's hiding spot was found and a timeline of events leading to his death. I apologize in advance for the many anonymous sources. They are the best that is available this morning and some of the story may be incorrect.
Osama bin Laden was ultimately tracked down by pursuing one his trusted couriers based on a "clue" provided by "a terrorist detainee" being held at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, The Hill reports.
U.S. intelligence officials were looking for individuals who might have “personal contact” with bin Laden, one official said.
One of the couriers “flagged” for close scrutiny “had our constant attention,” the administration official said. Terrorist detainees provided the man’s “nickname” and identified him “as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden.”
The U.S. intelligence community's "persistent efforts" paid off and they were able to determine the man's real name after two years of frustration. Then, it would take another two years to "pinpoint" where he lived. But, when officials finally discovered where the man was living with his brother, they were "shocked".
"When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw," a senior intelligence official told the LA Times. "The brothers had 'no explainable source of wealth,"' yet the property was valued at $1 million with extraordinary security features, a senior intelligence official said."
"The property was so secure, so large, that American officials guessed it was built to hide someone far more important than a mere courier," the New York Times reports. This "big break" came in late August 2010.
Source: BBC News. View location in Google Maps.
The man, said to be a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was living in a $1 million fortress in a luxurious neighborhood in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which is home to many Pakistan military retirees, USA Today reports. Bin Laden's hideout was constructed in 2005 and was "eight times larger than any in the area. It was built at the end of a dirt road, they now believe with the express purpose of hiding bin Laden and his family."
This compound was how U.S. intelligence expected bin Laden's hideout would be, the Washington Post reports. "Everything we saw . . . was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like."
As President Obama explained late Sunday night:
Last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan.
Bin Laden's fortress was "a mansion on the outskirts of the town’s center, set on an imposing hilltop and ringed by 12-foot-high concrete walls topped with barbed wire," the NYT reports. It is 200-800 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy, an elite military training centre", BBC reports.
The only normal way in is through two security gates. The building has no exterior windows and a third-floor balcony was shielded by "7-foot high privacy walls." Living with the ex-leader of al-Qaeda were members of his family, including his youngest wife, the courier and his brother, and their families. So, tight was the security sounding bin Laden that all garbage burnt onsite instead of being left for the trash haulers like other homes in the area.
"According to one local journalist, the house was known in the area as Waziristani Haveli - or Waziristan Mansion," the BBC reports.
Abbottabad has a "beautiful climate" and home to Pakistan's Frontier Force Regiment, with 67 armored and artillery battalions, according to R.J. Eskow writing for the Huffington Post. Nearby bin Laden's hideout is a golf course and "the Army Medical Center, a full hospital capable of treating virtually any kind of health problem." Combined with an airport just an hour away if a hasty escape was needed, this was "ideal location" to be holed-up in.
The NY Times reports after the discovery last August:
C.I.A. analysts spent the next several weeks examining satellite photos and intelligence reports to determine who might be living at the compound, and a senior administration official said that by September the C.I.A. had determined there was a “strong possibility” that Bin Laden himself was hiding there…
Months more of intelligence work would follow before American spies felt highly confident that it was indeed Bin Laden and his family who were hiding in there — and before President Obama determined that the intelligence was solid enough to begin planning a mission to go after the Qaeda leader.
President Obama helped five national security meetings to go over plans of the operation. The first meeting was held on March 14 and like all subsequent meetings, would only be attended by "the president’s closest national security aides" while the rest of the White House scrambled to avert the Republican's shutdown of the federal government.
"Months of planning went into the helicopter-borne operation," McClatchy reports. "The compound's high walls, security precautions, suburban location 'and proximity to Islamabad made' the operation extreme risky", according to McClatchy's anonymous administration source.
"Finally, last week," Obama said, "I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan."
At 8:20 on Friday morning, April 29, the president held the final meeting and authorized the go ahead with the plan before departing Washington, D.C, to survey the tornado devastation in Alabama.
Wisely, Obama chose to not share the bin Laden intelligence or warning a raid was imminent with Pakistan's government. Only a few people inside the U.S. government knew of the operation ahead of time, CNN reports.
"A senior administration official told reporters that Obama's administration did not share intelligence gathered beforehand with any other country — including Pakistan — for security reasons." Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate "has long been suspected by U.S. officials of maintaining links to extremist groups close to al Qaida," McClatchy reports.
The U.S. raid on the hideout started around 1:15 a.m. local time according to Abbotabad resident Mohammad Haroon Rasheed, CBS News reported. "I heard a thundering sound, followed by heavy firing," Rasheed said. "Then firing suddenly stopped. Then more thundering, then a big blast," he said. "In the morning when we went out to see what happened, some helicopter wreckage was lying in an open field."
|Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual), IT consultant who moved to Abbottabad for safety, was on Twitter, blogging the raid in real time:
According to CBS: "A Pakistani official in the town said fighters on the roof opened fire on the choppers as they came close to the building with rocket propelled grenades. Another official said four helicopters took off from the Ghazi air base in northwest Pakistan." The BBC also suspect the Tarbela Ghazi airbase was used due to its close proximity to Abbottabad.
"The small team of American military and intelligence operatives poured out of helicopters for their attack on the heavily fortified compound", the NYT reports. Some reports, including those on ABC News and CNN, suggest that U.S. Navy SEALs were part in the "surgical raid". The team was kept small "to minimize collateral damage". Only U.S. personnel were involved in the raid.
The team possibly was carried by four helicopters which left the Ghazi airbase in northwest Pakistan, CBS reports. Once the helicopters came close to bin Laden's hideout, men on the roof opened fired with rocket propelled grenades, according to CBS's Pakistani source.
The battle, itself, "lasted only minutes", the Washington Post reports. After it was over, bin Laden and three adult males were dead — "two were bin Laden’s couriers and a third was his adult son", according to WaPo's anonymous administration source. Bin Laden was shot twice in the head refusing the chance to surrender, ABC News reports. he "had vowed he would not be caught alive."
"Several women and children were at the compound. One woman was killed when she was 'used as a shield by a male combatant' and two others were injured," WaPo's source said.
The downed U.S. helicopter "was lost because of mechanical failure." According to WaPo's anonymous source: "The aircraft was destroyed by the crew, and the assault force and crew members boarded the remaining aircraft to exit the compound. All non-combatants were moved safely away from the compound before the detonation." There were no American injuries.
Less than 40 minutes after the assault on bin Laden's compound began, the U.S. forces hastily departed with bin Laden's body, according to CNN. Bin Laden's body was flown to Afghanistan, the NYT reports, where a series of DNA tests on it were performed.
"Bin Laden's DNA was matched with that of one of his sisters who died in Boston and whose brain was kept by the United States," ABC News reports. CNN adds:
U.S. officials said they used a number of methods to identify the body as bin Laden. One official said it was clear to the assault force that the body matched bin Laden's description, but they used "facial recognition work, amongst other things, to confirm the identity."
A senior national security official told CNN that they had multiple confirmations that the body was bin Laden, saying they had the "ability to run images of the body and the face."
"After the operation witnesses said all they could see was flames snaking up from inside the house," BBC reports.
"Pakistani troops arrived at the scene after the attack and took over the area." Six children and two of bin Laden wives were arrested in Pakistan, Xinhua reports the local Urdu TV channel Duniya as saying. Four "close friends" were also arrested.
At 3:50 p.m. on Sunday, President Obama was informed the body had been "tentatively" identified as bin Laden's. By 7 p.m, the LA Times reports, Obama learned that "high-value" target had been confirmed to be him.
This morning, an anonymous U.S. official said bin Laden had been buried at sea within the 24 hours called for by Islamic practice.
Updated by Magnifico at Mon May 02, 2011 at 09:47 AM PDT
Some new information via the LA Times, CIA led U.S. special forces mission against Osama bin Laden:
CIA Director Leon Panetta gave the go-order about midday Sunday, after President Obama had signed off on it.
Panetta and other CIA officials monitored the raid via live video on the 7th floor of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia... the operation was intended to kill or capture bin Laden, although all involved thought capture was unlikely.
"This wasn’t an execution," the official said."The assessment going in to it was that it’s highly unlikely that’s he’s going to be taken alive, but if he decided to lay down his arms, he would have been taken captive."
An option to bomb the compound was rejected in favor of a surgical raid, in part to make sure there was proof Bin Laden was there, and in part to spare the lives of more than a dozen non-combatants living in the compound.
The CIA and other agencies had been watching the compound since August, so they knew a lot about it, the official said. Mock-ups had been constructed and rehearsals of the raid held while senior officials watched.
LAT is also reporting that the raid was planned for Saturday, but postponed due to weather.
WaPo reports that the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden are from the elite ‘Team 6’.
The team is part of a counterterrorism group so specialized that no one can apply to join it. The operatives are recruited from existing SEAL teams. They are an elite group within the elite.
Updated by Magnifico at Tue May 03, 2011 at 01:49 AM PDT
More detailed accounts are now available online: