President Barack Obama announced Sunday night that the United States has killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and was in possession of the body of the al-Qaida leader and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
"Justice has been done," the president said in the dramatic announcement of the killing of the most wanted man in the world. Bin Laden was shot, reportedly in the head, and killed Sunday in a firefight with a small team of U.S. Navy Seals outside Islamabad, where the terrorist was hiding with family in a fortified compound.
From the World Trade Center, where nearly 3,000 were killed by the al-Qaida attack, to Times Square and elsewhere around the city, jubilant crowds quickly gathered to celebrate the incalculably important news they had craved for almost a decade. Some commentators likened the scenes to the celebrations at the end of World War II, though all agreed the war on terror was far from over.
Obama said that last August, the U.S. was briefed on a possible lead, after Obama made capturing or killing bin Laden a top CIA priority right after the president took office. Last week, Obama authorized an operation to get bin Laden. Sunday, the United States forces carried out a military operation in Pakistan, with no Americans harmed, the president said. After a firefight, they killed bin Laden and took his body. DNA testing confirmed that it was bin Laden, reports said.
Obama also credited the counterterrorism cooperation offered by the Pakistanis.
"Tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to," Obama said. We can do these things "because of who we are, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
At Ground Zero, joyous crowds were singing "God Bless America, chanting "USA! USA! USA!" and some even reciting "Yes We Can," Obama's campaign slogan. Crowds continued to arrive well into the night, with people jumping on utility poles and cars while cheering wildly. So immense is the outpouring that streets for blocks around were jammed.
Steve Gallow, 23, who served in Afghanistan from 2008-09, rushed to Ground Zero from Armonk, N.Y.
"It was like a dream come true. I've waited for this day for 10 years, since 9/11. I've served in the military, did a tour in Afghanistan, and knowing that this guy is dead -- it seems like it's the beginning of the end for al-Qaida. I'm at a loss for words."
Trevor Volpe, 19, of the Financial District, called it "a huge victory for our generation. We've been waiting for a conclusion for this for so long and finally we actually got it. It's a relief."
The images of the jubilant crowds were made even more poignant by the background setting: The under-construction One World Trade Center, rising 64 stories into the sky as it marches to its patriotic height of 1,776-feet tall, and the twin memorial pools honoring the victims who died just steps from where crowds were cheering the killer's death. People in Times Square, too, were rapturously jumping on firetrucks, chanting and waving flags.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the "important victory" that is the death of bin Laden "does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands."
He added: "New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001."
Obama made the historic announcement in a hastily called, late-night appearance at the White House. The Twitterverse alighted with speculation when it was announced the president would address the nation at the unusual time of 10:30 p.m. EDT on a Sunday, an address that was repeatedly postponed as reports leaked that bin Laden had been killed by the U.S.
On the momentous night, immense crowds were chanting "USA! USA!" outside the White House's north gate, singing "The Star Spangled Banner" and waving flags.
In New York, Maury Ray, 28, of Williamsburg, was in Union Square as the news broke: "I think this is just what we needed right now. Something to boost spirits in [what had been] a low-point for us," he said. "Obama just got himself re-elected."
Griffin Kelter, 18, of Gramercy, said: "I first saw it on Facebook and I was shocked. I was like, 'what?' It's going to boost morale for everyone. It'll bring back nationalism that's been sorely lacking recently."
Security will be heightened in New York City on Monday. CNN is reporting that the U.S. State Department is warning of the "enhanced potential for anti-American violence," and has issued travel warnings for Americans around the world.
"His death does not mark the end of our effort .. we must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad," Obama said.
Law enforcers and politicans alike swiftly reacted.
"The death of Osama bin Laden is a welcome milestone for the friends and families of those killed on 9/11, and for all who remain tenaciously engaged in protecting New York from another attack," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke to the significance of bin Laden's death to New Yorkers.
"This is a thunderous strike for justice for the thousands of my fellow New Yorkers -- and citizens from all over the world -- who were murdered on 9/11. It took close to 10 years, but the world's most wanted terrorist has finally met his deserved fate. New York's heart is still broken from the tragedy of 9/11, but this at least brings some measure of closure and consolation to the victims and their families."
Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King told WABC-TV that Obama deserves "tremendous credit."
"Hopefully it brings a sense of justice, a sense of justice and consolation to the families of those who were murdered on Sept. 11," King said.
It is a major accomplishment for Obama and his national security team. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had repeatedly vowed to bring to justice the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, but never did before leaving office in early 2009.
Bush Sunday night called the killing of bin Laden a "momentous achievement.” It “marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.” Bush said he congratulated Obama.
Having the body may help convince any doubters that bin Laden is really dead. A U.S. official reportedly said of bin Laden's body: "We are assuring it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition." CNN reported around 3 a.m. Monday that bin Laden had been buried at sea.
"We must also reaffirm that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam," Obama said.
Bin Laden had been the subject of a search since the Saudi-born terrorist eluded U.S. soldiers and Afghan militia forces in a large-scale assault on the Tora Bora mountains in 2001. The trail quickly went cold after he disappeared and many intelligence officials believed he had been hiding in Pakistan. He was found in the town of Abbottadad, certainly not in a cave or an otherwise remote location, as many had long speculated.
While in hiding, bin Laden had taunted the West and advocated his militant Islamist views in videotapes spirited from his hideaway.
Besides September 11, Washington has also linked bin Laden to a string of attacks -- including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen.
Tim Herrera reported from Ground Zero. Written by Rolando Pujol, with contributions from Pete Catapano and Mae M. Cheng, and supplements from Reuters