From Mother Jones
Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, was killed on Sunday in Pakistan. Here's what we know so far.
Where was Bin Laden killed? He was killed in a "compound near Abbottabad," which is a relatively wealthy city of about one million people about 150 km north of Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.
How did he die? The operation was a "surgical strike" by a small US team that entered by helicopter. The team was in the compound for under 40 minutes. Bin Laden was killed in a firefight and US forces took his body with them when they left. Early reports suggested that Bin Laden was shot in the head, but the White House has not confirmed that detail. NBC has reported that he was shot in the left eye. According to ABC, he was shot a second time to make sure he was dead.
Who killed him? In a background briefing, senior administration officials declined to say whether the operation was military or non-military (e.g., CIA). But the buzz elsewhere is that this was a military operation executed by the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG or DEVGRU), once known as SEAL Team Six. It's the special counterterror operations group of the naval special operations community. The SEALS were reportedly under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command and carried out the operation with the help of the CIA.
Eyewitnesses? The National newspaper reports that witnesses in Abbottabad awoke around 12:45 am local time on Sunday to the sounds of explosions coming from a house in the suburb of Bilal Town, and saw three helicopters firing on the bin Laden compound. The shooting ended around 2:00 am. "We watched as one of the helicopters was shot down and exploded when it hit the ground," said Ehtesham-ul-Haq, 30, a businessman who watched from his home.
The National also reports that top members of Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban currently hiding out in Pakistan are preparing to flee the country, according to a Karachi-based militant source. "Right now, the priority is safety. All leading figures will be constantly on the move, not staying at one location for more than 15 minutes," said the source, who added that they will eventually return to Afghanistan.
How did we find him? The US began tracking some suspected Bin Laden couriers over four years ago. Eventually, US officials became aware of the compound in Abottabad. The compound was eight times the size of the surrounding houses, and it had huge walls that were so high that people on the third floor still had seven-foot walls shielding them from outside view. The occupants burned all their trash (not a common local practice) and didn't have any phone or internet access. There were signs that a family matching the size of the Bin Laden clan was living there in secret. The courier who was living there with his brother had no discernible source of income, another tip-off for US intelligence.
Did Bin Laden fight back? Senior administration officials said Bin Laden "resisted" but would not say if he used any weapon in doing so. According to ABC, "Bin Laden himself fired his weapon during the fight" and "was asked to surrender but did not."
How long was he hiding in the compound? The compound was custom-built about five years ago to hide "someone of significance," according to a senior administration official. Its exact location is unclear—a spot in central Abbottabad identified as "Osama bin Laden's compound" on Google Maps appears to be inaccurate. The compound was reportedly a few hundred meters or less from the Pakistani Miltary Academy, "Pakistan's West Point," whose graduates include former President Pervez Musharraf. Here's video of the compound burning:
And here's video from ABC News taken inside the compound:
Who knew the raid was coming? The intelligence about the compound was not shared with any other country, including Pakistan. Only a very small number of people within the US government knew of the raid.
Was anyone else killed in the raid? No Americans were killed. Three adult males besides Bin Laden were killed in the raid, reportedly including one of Bin Laden's sons. One woman was killed when she was used as a human shield and another woman was injured. One helicopter was lost to mechanical failure and destroyed on the spot, according to the White House. Given that, this story from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn seems super-interesting. One resident who heard the commotion of the raid tweeted, "A huge window shaking bang here…I hope its [sic] not the start of something nasty."
Where is Bin Laden's body? A US official says Bin Laden's body has been buried at sea,reports the Associated Press. Senior administration officials had promised that his body would be handled according to Islamic practice, which requires a quick burial. "Finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult, the official said. So the US decided to bury him at sea." The official did not immediately say where that occurred.
How do we know it was him? Multiple reports say that the US has DNA confirmation.
Wait, we had Bin Laden's DNA? Actually, according to ABC's Brian Ross, the US had DNA from Bin Laden's sister, who died of brain cancer in Boston several years ago.
Is there a picture of the body? Maybe. Bloomberg reports that several Pakistani television stations broadcast what they said was a still photograph of Bin Laden’s body (caution: it's graphic), with his face smeared with blood and his left eye mutilated. Update: the picture isn't real.
How long has this been planned? President Obama reportedly asked for a plan to take out bin Laden back in June 2009. In August 2010, US intelligence learned about the location of the compound. The attack has been planned for months and the special forces involved practiced extensively. National Journal's Yochi Dreazen says that SEALS "built a full-scale mockup of bin Ladin's compound and spent weeks practicing the raid and learning layout."Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy and Aamer Madhani at National Journal have each posted a rundown of what was known about the operation as of Sunday night. According to Rogin, the meetings Obama convened with his national security team concerning the operation were held on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19, and April 28. And Rogin breaks down the the chain of events from over the weekend that led to the final go-ahead:
The final decision to go forward with the operation was made at 8:20 AM on Friday, April 29 in the White House's Diplomatic Room. In the room at the time were [national security adviser Tom] Donilon, his deputy Denis McDonough, and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan. Donilon prepared the formal orders.
On Sunday, Obama went to play golf in the morning at Andrews Air Force Base. He played 9 holes in chilly, rainy weather and spent a little time on the driving range, as well. Meanwhile, the principals were assembling in the situation room at the White House. They were there from 1:00 PM and stayed put for the rest of the day.
At 2:00, Obama met with the principals back at the White House. At 3:32 he went to the situation room for another briefing. At 3:50 he was told that bin Laden was "tentatively identified." At 7:01 Obama was told there was a "high probability" the high value target at the compound was bin Laden. At 8:30 Obama got the final briefing.
Before speaking to the nation, Obama called former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Who's Bin Laden's successor? The short answer is: no one. Bin Laden's number two is Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he does not command the same following or loyalty as the late Al Qaeda leader. According to the New Yorker's Lawrence Wright, author of the definitive history of Al Qaeda, Zawahiri "has few of the qualities that would make for a successful leader. He’s anti-charismatic. He ran his own Egyptian terror organization, al-Jihad, into the ground." Also on the shortlist is Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric who's now in hiding in Yemen (and who apparently inspired the Underwear bomber and the Fort Hood shooter). But compared to Bin Laden, as Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen put it on CNN, al-Awlaki's a "dwarf."
Are we worried about potential retaliation? U.S. military bases around the world are on high alert in case of retaliation. The government has been preparing for this eventuality for a long time. The US has not heard of any specific retaliation threats against any specific targets. In a statement to agency employees, outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta said: "The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must—and will—remain vigilant and resolute."
What are Islamists/conservatives/active-duty soldiers saying about Bin Laden's death? Check in with all of them here.
What does former President George W. Bush think? Here's his statement.