A team of elite American commandos slid down ropes from helicopters into the compound where Osama bin Laden was hiding before shooting the al-Qaida leader in the head after he opened fire on them, US officials revealed.
Bin Laden, who is believed to have ordered the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 as well as a number of deadly bombings, was then buried at sea following almost a decade on the run as the most wanted man in the world.
Acting on intelligence that bin Laden was holed up in a compound in the city of Abbottabad, US President Barack Obama ordered the unilateral mission to capture or kill him on foreign soil early on Monday morning.
US Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters ferried about two dozen troops from Navy Seal Team Six, a top military counter-terrorism unit, into the fortified compound north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
The $1m property had been identified by the CIA as bin Laden’s hideout last August after years of monitoring one of the terrorist leader’s couriers.
The convoy of helicopters travelled from an airbase in north-west Pakistan and dropped the elite team at the destination at 1am local time on Monday.
Wearing night-vision goggles, the unit dropped into the high-walled compound by sliding down ropes from the helicopters in the overnight raid which lasted 40 minutes, officials said.
Senior US officials said bin Laden was killed towards the end of a firefight in a building at the fortified compound, which is just 800 metres from the Kakul Military Academy – Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst.
In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons, Khalid, was killed in the raid as well as a woman believed to be one of his wives.
Also killed were two of bin Laden’s al-Qaida facilitators, including one who was apparently listed as the owner of the residence. No Americans were killed.
John Brennan, Mr Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said US officials believed the woman was one of bin Laden’s wives and that he had used her as a human shield.
He added that bin Laden was shot in the head after he and his bodyguards resisted the assault.
The commandos then retrieved bin Laden’s body and turned the remaining detainees over to Pakistani authorities.
Senior administration officials said DNA testing had offered near 100% certainty of his death.
Photo analysis, confirmation by a woman believed to be one of bin Laden’s wives on site, and matching physical features like bin Laden’s height all helped confirm the identification.
His body was then put aboard the USS Carl Vinson and placed in the North Arabian Sea.
US national security officials claimed the burial would make it harder for the al Qaida founder to become a martyr.
Traditional Islamic procedures for handling the remains were followed, including washing the corpse and placing it in a white sheet, officials added.
Investigations have now begun to discover who within Pakistan provided support to bin Laden to allow him to live in a fortified compound in a military town which is populated by a large number of military and intelligence personnel.