|US spies monitored the couriers trusted with handling bin Laden's communications with the outside world [AFP]
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a 40-minute raid that followed months of planning and years of investigation, US officials said on Sunday.
Bin Laden went into hiding shortly after the September 11 attacks, so his communications with the outside world were handled by trusted couriers. US spies have been monitoring many of those couriers for years, the CIA said on Sunday.
“One courier in particular had our constant attention,” a senior administration official said. “We identified him as both a protege of [September 11 plotter] Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and [alleged al-Qaeda member] Abu Faraj al-Libi.”
The US spy agency learned his name four years ago; two years later, it tracked the courier and his brother to a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan.
“We were shocked by what we saw, an extraordinarily unique compound,” a CIA official said. “It has 12-to-18-foot walls, topped with barbed wire; internal walls sectioned off different areas of the compound; access was restricted by two security gates.”
The five-year-old compound even burned its own trash, to prevent anyone from snooping through the garbage, and had no phone or internet connections to the outside.
And the brothers who lived there “had no visible source of wealth,” leading the CIA to believe that other people lived in the compound.
US officials eventually came to believe that those “other people” were bin Laden and his family, and presented their assessment to US president Barack Obama in September.
Several months of investigation followed, and then Obama chaired a series of five national security council meetings to decide on a course of action.
The council decided on an operation to capture bin Laden. Administration officials will not say whether the operation involved military personnel, CIA officers, or both; whoever conducted the raid, they rehearsed it several times beforehand.
“The president made the decision to undertake the operation at 8:20am on April 29th,” the White House said.
The operation itself was launched two days later, on May 1. Obama met senior officials around 2pm to review final preparations; US personnel then launched a helicopter raid on the compound, which took less than 40 minutes, according to a senior administration official.
The goal of the raid was to capture bin Laden - but the al-Qaeda leader “did resist the assault force,” officials said.
Shortly before 4pm, Obama learned that bin Laden had been “tentatively identified.” Three hours later, the president was told there was a “high probability” that bin Laden was killed; his identity was later confirmed with DNA from his late sister.
Three other people were killed in the raid, including bin Laden’s son and a woman who allegedly acted as a human shield, and at least two more wounded. One US helicopter crashed during the assault.
Bin Laden’s body “will be handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition,” an administration official said, though he refused to say where the body would be taken for burial.