WAVING American flags, thousands flooded to the White House in spontaneous celebrations after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Chanting “USA, USA” and punching the air, they began singing the national anthem even before the al-Qaida leader’s killing was confirmed by US President Barack Obama.
“We found him. He killed 3,000 people. It’s justice,” said student Jon Garcia, 19, explaining he had come to the White House “to be a part of it. It’s very historic.”
“It’s a historic day for America, we have been looking for him for 10 years. It’s justice for families,” added Anna Howell, a 27-year-old teacher.
American-Muslim group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) hailed the news.
“We join our fellow citizens in welcoming the announcement that Osama bin Laden has been eliminated as a threat to our nation and the world,” the Washington-based group said.
In New York, where some 3,000 people died when al-Qaida hijackers crashed two commercial airliners into the Twin Towers, tourists and New Yorkers descended on Times Square as well as at Ground Zero.
“Obama got Osama!” they chanted, in celebrations that started shortly before midnight and continued into the early hours.
“It’s a miracle,” said New Yorker Monica King, 22. “The attacks changed New York and now 10 years later we had our last word,” she added, saying: “Now we want to celebrate.”
Gary Talafuse, from Texas, said Americans “feel a lot of national pride”.
“This may not change anything in al-Qaida tactics, but after billions of dollars invested, this is a big loss for al-Qaida, and that brings some degree of reward to our efforts.”
Even the usually low-key New York Police Department parked a car in Times Square and stared talking to people, laughing and posing for photos.
In Los Angeles, applause could be heard from bars with TV screens showing Mr Obama make the historic announcement.
“I’m really happy that this guy is dead because he killed so many people around the world. I’m glad that our nation is safe because of this,” said Cesar Guellory, 25.
Carol Morrinson said she had voted for Mr Obama.
“He’s showing us how strong he can be… Today we can say that we are safe. I’m proud of the United States.”
Sports fans erupted in joy at the news. Fans at the Philadelphia Phillies Major League Baseball game began chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” as the news spread through the stadium.
Back in Washington, what started with a few dozen people became thousands in a celebration in Lafayette Park outside the White House by the early hours.
“I had friends who lost families in 9/11. I never felt such emotion. In my town we lost a lot of loved ones. It’s something they have been waiting for for so long,” said John Kelley, 19, a student from New Jersey.
When the news was confirmed “my knees started shaking. I called my best friend. He lost his brother in 9/11. He was overcome with joy. It’s too good to be true. It’s hard to believe.”
A large crowd gathered in front of the White House, with people chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A,” waving US flags and singing the national anthem.
Will Ditto, 25, a legislative aide, said he was getting ready to go to bed when his mother called him with the news. He decided to leave his home on Capitol Hill and join the crowd. As he rode the subway system to the White House, he told fellow passengers the news.
“It’s huge. It’s a great day to be an American.”
George Washington University student Alex Washofsky, 20, and his roommate Dan Fallon, 20, joined the crowd.
“George Bush said, ‘Bring him to justice, dead or alive,’ and we did it,” said Mr Washofsky, a member of the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The crowd began gathering before Mr Obama addressed the nation at about 11.30pm on Sunday. By midnight, people had filled a street directly in front of the White House and the celebration was spilling over into Lafayette Park to the north.
US flags were held aloft, worn draped over the shoulders or gripped by many hands for a group wave. Some people climbed trees and lampposts to better display the flags they carried. Others without flags simply pumped their fists in the air.
One handmade sign said, “Ding-dong. Osama bin Laden is dead!!!” Someone held a life-size cardboard cutout of Obama.
Henry Lee, 59, and his daughter Erin Lee, 30, of Van Nuys, California, came out to see the crowd after watching the president’s speech on television.
“I’ve never seen anybody so happy over someone’s death,” said Lee, who was in town to lobby on healthcare issues. “Justice has been done.”
But Erin said she was also worried. “I’m kind of afraid about what’s next, though. Are they going to retaliate against us?” She warned that the war on terror is “not necessarily over because bin Laden is dead.”
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