Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11 2001, terror attacks, was killed in an operation led by the United States, President Barack Obama said today.
A small team of Americans carried out the attack and took custody of bin Laden’s remains, the president said in a dramatic statement at the White House.
A jubilant crowd gathered outside the White House as word spread of bin Laden's death after a global manhunt that lasted nearly a decade.
“Justice has been done,” the president said.
The development comes just months before the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre towers in New York and Pentagon in Washington, orchestrated by bin Laden's al Qaida organisation, that killed more than 3,000 people.
The attacks set off a chain of events that led the United States into wars in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and America’s entire intelligence apparatus was overhauled to counter the threat of more terror attacks at home.
Al Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa that killed 231 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.
Former US president George Bush said he had congratulated Mr Obama after hearing about bin Laden's death.
He also congratulated the men and women of the military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to the mission.
“This momentous achievement 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,” he said.
He also said the US “has sent an unmistakable message: no matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said Americans had kept their promise after September 11 to capture or kill bin Laden.
He said the killing of the terrorist leader did not lessen the suffering Americans experienced at his hands the day the World Trade Centre was destroyed but was a “critically important victory” for the nation.
He said it was a tribute to the men and women in the armed forces who fought so hard.
Mr Bloomberg said he hoped news of bin Laden’s demise would “bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones” that day.
The US has put embassies on alert and warned Americans of al Qaida reprisal attacks.
US officials said they are ensuring Bin Laden's body is handled in accordance with Islamic tradition and practice.