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Details of the Killing of Osama bin Laden

Aired May 2, 2011 - 02:00   ET


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Osama bin Laden, the very face of global terror for more than a decade, is now dead.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: He was killed by a small group of American forces inside Pakistan.

CHURCH: A surgical strike on a man who appears to be have been hiding in plain sight, in a mansion outside Islamabad.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- innocent men, women and children. It was nearly ten years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory.


VAUSE: His death was an instant cause for celebration in Washington. An exuberant crowd formed quickly outside the White House, singing the National Anthem as President Barack Obama made the official announcement.

It is right now just after 2:00 in the morning in Washington and those crowds are still outside the White House.

CHURCH: Hello, I'm Rosemary Church.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around they world to our special coverage. News of bin Laden's death has been flashing around the world for several hours now. Bin Laden, the al Qaeda terror chief who masterminded the September 11th attacks on the United States a decade ago, was killed during a U.S. operation in Pakistan.

His body now in U.S. custody. U.S. President Barack Obama confirming the dramatic news in a rare late night address broadcast around the world.


OBAMA: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children. It was nearly ten years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory. Hijacked planing cutting through a cloudless September sky, the twin towers collapsing to the ground.

Black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon. The wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world, the empty seat at the dinner table, children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father, parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace, nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

On September 11th, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand and we offered the wounded our blood.

We reaffirmed our ties to each other and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe.

And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends and our allies. Over the last ten years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counter-terrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort.

We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

Yet, Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world. And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat his network.

Then last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan.

And finally last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed.

They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.

The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda.


VAUSE: OK, let's see where all of this took place. Not in the wilds of Pakistan as many thought, but near the capital Islamabad, in a place called Abbottabad, about 100 kilometers north of Islamabad.

And just next door to Pakistan is Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks against the United States a decade ago. It is from Afghanistan that bin Laden then fled after U.S. forces invaded that country just weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington.

CNN's Nick Payton Walsh joins us now live from the Afghan Capital Kabul. Nick, what are you learning about this operation, this successful operation in Pakistan?

NICK PAYTON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're hearing -- and I stress this is through American officials across the Atlantic in D.C. We are hearing that helicopters dropped special forces into this compound.

We need to explain what that means, in terms of how much the Pakistani government would have had to know about this operation. Obviously to send helicopters that far into Pakistani territory, they would have come up on Pakistani radar at some point.

Pakistani officials are insisting that they had prior knowledge of this operation and the Pakistani intelligence operatives were on the ground during that, although that seems to be denied by American officials. So a definite conflict of opinion there as to who actually was involved on the ground.

One Pakistan senior intelligence official saying he did not who actually pulled the trigger, although it seems to be clear there were American special forces involved.

Pictures on local television showing a fire in the area around there. It's not clear if that is the precise compound where the attack happened. But it's also key to point out this happened in a busy town, in a busy city.

Previously, al Qaeda and militants, insurgents her had all been thought to have been hiding out in the tribal areas, where U.S. drones could pick them off one by one.

But there had been a trend recently for Taliban to move into Karachi, for example, in the south, big bustling, populated cities, where it's easier to hide yourself.

And it does appear obviously that bin Laden had a similar tactic, hiding himself out in Abbottabad. John.

VAUSE: Nick, when we look at the details of this, a million dollar mansion in a very poor area, 18-foot tall walls surrounding this mansion, which had been built some time ago. Apparently bin Laden had been there for some months with his youngest wife.

How is it possible that the Pakistani government was not aware of his presence?

WALSH: I think they'll be under enormous pressure to answer that question. It isn't I suppose feasible if he never left that compound, if he arrived under great secrecy -- there was no -- apparently, no telephone or Internet access to it. So you could conceive perhaps that he was there without their knowledge.

Although, of course, there will be that question asked again and again in the next 24 hours. The relationship of trust between Washington and Islamabad really frayed in the past few months because of drone strikes, because of the autonomous behavior of U.S. intelligence operatives within the country.

Remember, in the past, Pakistan said the drone strikes were all run in cooperation with Pakistani intelligence, who were helping them. Recently, they said America was operating unilaterally inside the country. No greater evidence of that new American policy than today, where they seem to have gone straight for bin Laden themselves, saying they did not inform Pakistan beforehand.

VAUSE: Nick, we have both spoken to Jihadists who over the years have always taken a great deal of pride in the fact that bin Laden was never caught, that he was still on the run, that he managed to evade the United States for a such a very long time.

What will be the reaction now among all those people from Pakistan to Afghanistan, where you are, to Gaza, all of these Jihadists?

WALSH: I think there are some people who regarded him as a figurehead, as perhaps a symbol of resistance against America's presence here in this region. Of course, there are many ordinary Pakistanis and Afghans who consider him and his like an enormous problem for them getting on with their daily lives.

So there will be a split opinion here. I do think you have to be careful in this area and across the border in Pakistan for retaliation. So many of these networks have said that when bin Laden dies, they will take spectacular action. There have been previously in the past few days concerns about a spectacular attack here, but that obviously was not publicly linked to any operation against bin Laden.

I spoke to ISAF, NATO forces here, and say their alert status has not changed. But certainly concerns on both sides of the border there could be some retaliation.

VAUSE: Obviously this story is still developing. We're just a few hours since the announcement was made by the U.S. president. But what will be the impact on the Taliban in Afghanistan where you are right now?

WALSH: I think operationally it will probably have not a vast effect. Taliban leadership has been changing enormously over the past few years. Many reports the senior figures like Mullah Omar, various individuals at the top end are less connected with the operations on the ground, which are often run by hot-headed, angry, young insurgent, indigenous sometimes, put in that position, running their own units against the Americans.

Because a lot of the American activity here has been to take out the middle level leadership connecting them with -- they call it Ketashura (ph), as is known across the border in Pakistan. Bin Laden, though, a symbolic, kind of a totem really, a huge figurehead for insurgents here, and obviously the reason really why America came here in the first place.

So his death certainly a blow to morale for the average insurgent here. But I'm not entirely sure yet we can say that there will be an operational impact. In fact, what we might see is an up tick in insurgent activity to show they're not beaten, and to show some sort of retaliation against U.S. forces.

VAUSE: There are still so many unanswered questions in this story. Nick Payton Wash live for us in Kabul. Thank you Nick.


CHURCH: There surely are. Well, former U.S. President George W. Bush first led the charge against bin Laden, of course. Here's what he said before leading the multinational attack on those who were sheltering him in Afghanistan. Take a listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Osama bin Laden is just one person. He is representative of networks of people who absolutely have made their cause to defeat the freedoms that we take -- that we understand. And we will not allow him to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you want bin Laden dead?

BUSH: I want him -- I want justice. And there's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said wanted, dead or alive.


CHURCH: And we all remember that. Well, after hearing of bin Laden's death from President Obama, Bush issued a statement. And I'm quoting here, "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. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight, America has sent an unmistakable message, no matter how long it takes, justice will be done."

Well, bin Laden has also been linked to another attack on the World Trade Center back in 1993. And he has been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List since 1999. That was all while former President Bill Clinton occupied the Oval Office. And in a statement, Mr. Clinton says, "I congratulate the president, the national security team and the members of our armed forces on bringing Osama bin Laden to justice after more than a decade of murderous al Qaeda attacks."

VAUSE: Of course, reaction coming in from around the world as well. Australian's prime minister is weighing in. Here's what Julia Gillard had to say just moments ago.


JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Osama bin Laden declared war on innocent people and today he has paid the price for that declaration. Osama bin Laden was directly responsible for despicable acts of violence against innocent people. And he inspired acts of violence by others.

Today of all days, we remember the lives lost.


VAUSE: We're also getting reaction from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He says, "the state of Israel joins in the joy of the American people on this historic day in which Osama bin Laden was killed. This is a resounding victory for justice, freedom and for the joint values of all the countries that fight side by side determinedly against terror."

CHURCH: Our Chris Lawrence is following developments at the Pentagon. He joins us live now with some new information on that operation. So, Chris, what are you learning?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Rosemary, we're learning now from a U.S. official that in terms of finding out exactly that it was Osama bin Laden -- we're told that the assault team that went into that compound said that they thought -- just by visual recognition, that they thought the description matched Osama bin Laden, but they also did some facial recognition technology, among other things, to positively identify him as bin Laden.

We're also hearing that -- emphatically that the body of Osama bin Laden will not be brought back to the United States. They say it will -- the disposition of the body will be done under Islamic law, but the exact details of that are still being worked out.

We're also getting some new information about this whole idea and this real controversy that is starting to come out about the relationship of the Pakistani officials to this mission. As Nick Payton Walsh was reporting, Pakistani officials there are saying they were on the ground as this was taking place.

U.S. officials have been emphatically saying, no, that is not true. They did not inform the Pakistani officials until after the raid took place. One official told -- is now telling us that the Pakistanis may have been helpful and instrumental in terms of piecing the mission together, but that the Pakistanis did not know that the U.S. was directly targeting Osama bin Laden in that compound.


CHURCH: All right, Chris Lawrence with that new information. Appreciate that.

Well, of course, as we heard news of bin Laden's death spread rapidly around the world, we heard specifically from the Israeli prime minister. Let's go now to Phil Black who is live in Jerusalem. So, Phil, explain to us what is the feeling there now as this news spreads, as people sort of absorb this and try to digest what exactly this means globally and certainly in that part of the world?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Rosemary, here in Israel, it is Holocaust Memoriam Day, which is normally a somber, reflective day for people to think about and remember the millions of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Normally television program -- well, a lot of it is suspended entirely. Much of it is dedicated to the somber reflective programming on that piece of -- very significant piece of Jewish history.

Today, it's a little bit different, though. We have television, radio programs dedicated to rolling coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden, what it may mean for this region. The Israeli foreign minter this morning has said that in many ways it is symbolic that this has taken place on Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day.

And we've had that statement that John mentioned a few moments ago from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he spoke of Israelis joining in the joy of the American people on this historic day.

And he also spoke of this being a resounding victory for all countries that fight side by side determinedly against terror. He was very much referring to itself in the statement. And Israel will tell you that operating in the Palestinian territories, Gaza specifically, it believes there are al Qaeda affiliated groups.

The reality is they're generally quite small. Their influence is not great. And they're as much an irritant to Israel as they are to the governing authority in Gaza, Hamas, which is although an enemy of Israel, also very much in a daily struggle, if you like, against the smaller extremist groups in Gaza itself. But Israel will be very much looking to see what reaction comes out of the Palestinian territories here today from groups that may claim direct linkage to al Qaeda. But also more broadly, you may remember that in the wake of September 1th, there were images -- video images of Palestinians celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers.

And over the years, the Palestinian situation has been very much a rallying point for Islamist groups around the world, something that al Qaeda, bin Laden himself has spoken about in recordings over the last ten years or so.

So very much looking to see what the reaction will be from those Palestinian territories today, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Indeed. Phil, how likely is it? Are we likely to see this as a unifying day or a divisive day, do you think, once everyone does start to absorb this news?

BLACK: Well, difficult to say. Within the Palestinian territories itself, you're not going to see strong gestures of anger or sadness among the broader population certainly. The territories are very different place today than they were ten years ago.

We will be looking to see if some of the more extremist groups do perhaps react in a more violent, physical, angry way in itself. Certainly here in Israel, when you talk to people, there is very much a sense of satisfaction about this news.

But interestingly for many of the people I've spoken to this morning already this morning the reaction from Israelis is it's about time. This has taken far too long.

And many people here have made the point that if this was a terror leader of this scale that had attacked Israel in the same sort of way, they believe that it's something this nation would have taken care of in a much shorter time frame, Rosemary.

CHURCH: It goes without question that here in the United States, wall-to-wall coverage. What is the situation there on the television? And, of course, it's way too early for newspapers but certainly radio and word of mouth?

BLACK: Yeah, very much so. It is the number one talking point in this country today. As I say, rolling coverage on radio, on television.

And it is unusual given what is usually the nature of this day. Holocaust Memorial Day is a somber reflective day for Jews to reflect upon that most significant of events in their history, the Holocaust itself.

And normally television programming is something that dies away entirely to the point where, as I mentioned, a lot of programs cease broadcasting on this day in its entirety.

But so far, this is what everyone is very much talking today, from people on the street to the government, across radio and television, as well. People here are digesting the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed. Rosemary.

CHURCH: They most certainly are. Phil Black reporting there from Jerusalem. Thanks so much. John?

VAUSE: It is still early in the morning here in the United States. But yet they are still outside the White House celebrating the news that Osama bin Laden is dead. These are live pictures of the crowd which has gathered outside.

They have been chanting USA. They've been singing the National Anthem. All of this since word started to spread about four hours ago now, before the president made that official announcement, that Osama bin Laden had, in fact, been killed. An hour after that, around 11:30 p.m. Eastern time, United States President Barack Obama made that statement.

This jubilant crowd then cheering that news that the most wanted man in the world had, in fact, been killed by special operation forces inside Pakistan. There are still so many unanswered questions about what comes next.

And to try to answer some of those question, Peter Bergen joins us live to talk us through some of those issues.

Peter, does anyone take over from Osama bin Laden? Is it possible that he'll have a successor?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there will be a successor. The question is how effective will that successor be. And in my view -- and I interviewed many people who know bin Laden, who have been part of his organization -- no one could really replace him.

You know, when you join al Qaeda, you don't swear an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda. You swear a personal oath of allegiance to bin Laden. And while comparisons with the Nazis is not something that I like often to do, there is one comparison. When you join the Nazi party, you didn't swear an oath of allegiance to Nazism. You swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

And if Adolf Hitler had died in 1944 with the bomb that was placed under the conference room table by a group of army conspirators on July 20th, 1944, World War II would certainly have ended earlier. But since it was so much -- essentially Hitler decided to put that war in motion.

Similarly with bin Laden, bin Laden founded al Qaeda. Bin Laden was the intellectual author of 9/11. And there is no one -- he does have a deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, his number two. But he's not somebody on the scale of bin LAden.

When people describe their relationship with bin Laden, people that I've interviewed or in court cases, when you look at these cases, they describe feelings of love. Love is a very strong verb. They don't describe feelings of love for Ayman al Zawahiri or other people in the movement. So, yes, there will be a successor. But the question is how useful will that successor be for the organization. And I think his successor will be nothing, fortunately, on the scale of what we've seen of Osama bin Laden, John.

VAUSE: It's important to remember that al Qaeda is still operational in more than 60 countries around the world. Given that, can we see a splintering of the group, freelancing, if you like, among al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Could we se a period of instability, if you like?

BERGEN: As you know, John, there are plenty of al Qaeda affiliates. We were together in Pakistan where there are groups that don't even call themselves al Qaeda, yet operate with an al Qaeda-like agenda. Take, for instance, the Pakistani Taliban. One of Osama bin Laden's great unfortunate gifts to humanity is that he was able to influence other groups.

The Pakistani Taliban sent a suicide bomber to Times Square on May 1st, 2010. Lucky he didn't succeed. The Pakistani Taliban has sent suicide bombers to Barcelona. Lucky they didn't succeed.

It's not just the affiliates al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which almost succeeded in blowing up Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. It's also al Qaeda in Iraq. It's al Qaeda in the Islamic Magrheb, which just looked like it killed something like a couple of dozen people in Morocco in the last few days.

And you can go on. Al Shabaab in Somalia -- there are plenty of these regional affiliates. And unfortunately, bin Laden's sort of demonic gift to the world is that his ideology has been taken up by a sufficiently large number that it will continue without him.

Killing a person is a lot easier than killing an idea. Bin Laden has been losing the war of ideas in the Muslim world. Support for him, for al Qaeda, for suicide bombing has been dropping precipitously.

But that said, it doesn't require a very large group of people to continue inflicting the kinds of terrorist attacks that we've seen in Indonesia, in Jordan, Iraq, any Muslim country you care to mention, and, of course, in the West.

And this is a great victory today not only for the United States but for all the victims of al Qaeda. We should remember that the largest terrorist attack in British history, the most deadly one, on July 7th, 2005, was carried out by al Qaeda.

We should remember that thousands of victims of al Qaeda died in Iraq as a result of al Qaeda suicide bombers. We should remember the several dozen people who died at a wedding in Amman, Jordan, in 2005 because of al Qaeda.

And I -- the list goes on and on, John.

VAUSE: If we look at the warnings that are coming out now from the State Department for U.S. citizens, in fact, the warnings now around the world essentially for people to be careful at airports, be careful at hotels because of this concern for some kind of retaliation.

But is it possible for some kind of grand retaliation by al Qaeda, because it seemed in recent years they've been getting away from these big gestures to small, lone wolf kind of attacks.

BERGEN: Yes. They don't have the capacity to do a 9/11 or anything close. That said, if Northwest 253 had blown up over Detroit, that would have killed 300 mostly Americans on board, more people on the ground in Detroit, would have had a transformational effect on global aviation tourism and international business, and probably would have been a crippling blow to the Obama presidency.

Lucky it didn't happen. But the point is that, you know, these groups do retain some residual capacity. They can get lucky. And certainly the death of bin Laden is something that a number of people around the world will try and take revenge, particularly in a country where he's just been killed, because the people motivated by these ideas regard the United States not only as an enemy, but the Pakistani government itself.

We've seen literally thousands of Pakistani civilians be killed by groups motivate the by al Qaeda's ideology in the past several years. And bin Laden and his number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, have made it a point of al Qaeda policy to attack the Pakistani state and military in the last several year.

VAUSE: One last very quick question, did -- who knew in Pakistan -- within the Pakistani government that bin Laden was where he was?

BERGEN: I don't think we know the answer to that, John.

VAUSE: OK. Peter, thank you very much. Peter Bergen live for us this evening in Washington. We appreciate it.

BERGEN: Thanks.

CHURCH: All right. We want to take a step back for just a moment with some background on Osama bin Laden's life before the 9/11 attacks on the United States back in 2001. And he was born in 1957 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the 17th of 52 children fathered by Mohamed bin Laden.

Now, in 1979, bin Laden graduated with a degree in civil engineering from a Saudi university. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, that same year, he joined the Afghan resistance known as the Mujahadin.

Now, for most of the 1980s, bin Laden supported and at times even fought alongside the Afghans. In 1988, he founded al Qaeda with the mission of providing men and money for the Mujahadin.

Now, after the U.S. invasion of Kuwait back in 1990, bin Laden turned his attention to the United States for its presence on Saudi soil, near the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina. It began a series of terror attacks that would last for years. In 1993, he was assumed to have been behind the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

And 1998 saw a pair of truck bombs at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And then in 2000, bin Laden is linked to the bombing of the USS Coal in Yemen.

All of it leading up to the 9/11 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Washington.

For more now on this historic event, nearly a decade after the terror attacks of 9/11, we are joined by CNN's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.

Jeanne, of course, this is just a huge day for the United States, but not only the U.S., Right across the globe, people are marking this day, not everyone necessarily celebrating. But what are the consequences? What are the ramifications now of this in terms of these alerts that are now being issued across the globe for U.S. citizens and for others?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Of course, great concern about the possibility of some sort of retaliation from al Qaeda, from a sympathizer, from an affiliate. And so, as you mentioned, there has been this worldwide alert to exercise caution.

Here in the United States, officials are saying they are not aware of any specific threat information. But it is clear that in certain respects, security is being stepped up.

We know that the New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly sent out an alert to all of his commands, urging them to be at increased vigilance. In addition, a New York City police official told me that you will see additional police presence in places like Times Square and other iconic sorts of places around New York, transportation hubs and the like.

In Addition, in Philadelphia we know that the police chief has stepped up patrols around synagogues and around mosques. That's going to be done on an hourly basis, according to him.

The Department of Homeland Security says it will continue to protect Americans with measures seen and unseen. They are not giving us any specifics. But I have talked to a former Department of Homeland Security official who says there was a game plan on the shelf that they were able to pull out that has to do with protection of transportation hubs, critical infrastructure and the like.

But this isn't just about protection. The other thing that's really ramping up here is intelligence gathering. Clearly bin Laden has had ten years to prepare for the possibility of his death. There's always been concern that he might be dispatching people to the U.S. They may already be here. They may be sleepers. And that perhaps his death would be a trigger to take some kind of an action. So we can anticipate that the intelligence community is looking very carefully at everybody, everybody, everybody who has been on their radar, to see if they see any indications of any call to action. One of the worries is that some of these people may work as lone wolves as opposed to parts of cells. Cells, of course, being much easier to detect.

Another big concern among some of the counter-terrorism officials who I've spoken to is what happens next. You were talking about this with Peter a few moments ago. There is a real sense that at least under Osama bin Laden, you sort of knew what you were dealing with. There was oddly enough a sort of stability in the situation.

And the question now is, who does take over that organization? Does it become more radical? Does it become less stable? Those are all the sorts of questions being considered right now.

But, again, at this point in time, officials saying no specific threat information. They do say, however, that they are carefully monitoring all kinds of intelligence. It is possible that in the days and weeks ahead, of course, that situation will change significantly, as people affiliated with al Qaeda or sympathizing with them may decide to take some kind of action in retaliation.

CHURCH: Jeanne Meserve, many thanks. John.

VAUSE: Let's stay in Washington right now. Joe Johns is live at the White House where there is still a huge crowd gathered outside. Joe joins us now live with the mood there.

Joe, is it just pure jubilation or is there a moment to pause to remember what happened on 9/11?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. Here at the White House, a lot of jubilation, quite frankly, John Vause. You're right. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in front of the White House.

A very young crowd, at least of the people I've seen, a lot of college students, apparently a lot of people recently graduated from college. And you kind of wonder why. Many of them it seems came with just cameras. And a lot of people grabbed something that was red, white and blue, the colors of the U.S. flag.

And I talked to one person who said, this is the VJ day of our generation. Now, to that end, I'd like to talk at this time to a veteran actually of Afghanistan and Iraq, Alicia Watkins, and September 11th.

You heard about this. You were in Frederick, Maryland, which is about 60 miles outside of the city. You came down here and I guess this takes you back to 9/11, when you were at the pentagon.


JOHNS: Talk to me about that. WATKINS: Well, I just -- my life forever changed. I lost a lot of good people on that day. And my life forever changed. so when this happened, I, you know, just hauled tail down here just to be a part of it. It feels such -- and the brilliance and the feeling that I felt after all the turmoil on that day.

I remember our flag being flown over the Pentagon. I remember so much and I got that feeling back.

JOHNS: You also found yourself in Afghanistan and Iraq.


JOHNS: and you were injured.


JOHNS: And all of this I suppose comes flooding back tonight.

WATKINS: I know. And it almost -- it almost feels like it was worth it, you know. I've been through so much since September 11th. And to see all these people who I never met before take pictures and slap my hand and everything else, it brings back that feeling I felt when we draped that flag over that Pentagon that day.

It really does.

JOHNS: And you were talking to me earlier about how it seemed to you as if a cloud had been lifted off the White House.

WATKINS: It is. I'm from D.C. I've been in D.C. I've seen this White House so many times. And it looks so different. It looks so huge. It looks so powerful, so hopeful. And I don't know what it is. It looks difference. It's a new White House. I really do feel that.

JOHNS: So tell me a little bit about your own story. You, as I said, were injured in Afghanistan.


JOHNS: You have spent a long time recovering from essentially the effects of September 11th, 2001.

WATKINS: And I didn't even know that it started September 11. And it's just been a buildup. As I've gone to Iraq s I've gone to Afghanistan, as I've lost so much, I feel like I can now start to rebuild. It's almost like, you know, a parent who loses a child and the killer is brought to justice.

I feel like this has been a cold case for a long time. And they solved it. And I just feel so emotional. My heart is just so light right now. It really is.

JOHNS: Thank you so much, Alicia Watkins. So that's one story from in front of the White House, Lafayette Park at this hour, here in Washington, D.C., And I can tell you there's certainly thousands of others. John Vause, back to you.

VAUSE: Joe Johns there for us live at the White House. That was amazing stuff. Thank you, Joe.

CHURCH: It certainly was. OK, we do want to recap now for just a moment. In the past few hours, a major announcement from U.S. President Barack Obama.

VAUSE: Yes, Osama bin Laden was killed by a small group of American forces inside Pakistan.


OBAMA: Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties.

After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.


VAUSE: It's an announcement ten years in the making. Bin Laden's been blamed for thousands of deaths in countless attacks around the world, most notably the attacks on New York and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

President Obama says the operation was carried out with Pakistan's cooperation.

CHURCH: All right. We do want to get reaction from across the Middle East region. And Rima Maktabi is standing by for us at CNN Abu Dhabi. Rima, what are you seeing in terms of reaction to the death, the news that we've heard now of the death of Osama bin Laden?

RIMA MAKTABI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, it's a top headline news on all Arab media since early morning. It's important news for the region. Osama bin Laden is Saudi. He comes from this region.

And has a lot of supporters, but also he has a lot of people who hate him and they denounce al Qaeda. First of all, we don't have at this point any official reaction for any Arab government at this stage. Everyone is waiting to see. They're assessing the situation.

They may give official statements. They may not.

Most importantly in this region is Saudi Arabia. As we know, bin Laden is Saudi. And Saudi Arabia has been a victim of many explosions and attacks over the past years. So bin Laden has been a threat to the Saudis and the rest of the Arab world in as much as he has been to America and the western world.

We are waiting for more reactions. We know for a fact some people will be very happy for the death of bin Laden and for his killing, but other people will be sad. Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yeah, certainly. And that's what we're seeing on social media. Certainly I've been receiving a number of Tweets from people saying is this justice and other comments, certainly implying they are not celebrating on this day.

Rima, I just want to make the point, of course, it is morning there across the Middle East. So presumably there's just a delay in officials there in some governments perhaps pulling together statements, because this is a very delicate issue. The wording that they put in statements, they would need to be very careful what they say here.

MAKTABI: Indeed, Rosemary. The words have to be chosen really well by Arab governments. On the one hand, they have been part of the battle against al Qaeda. We know there has been massive efforts by the UAE governments and officials to curb al Qaeda's presence and influence in the region.

We know that Saudis have started schools and programs to clear the minds of the young people in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world from the Islamist/extremist ideas.

So there have been efforts. However, any celebration of the killing of bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, will be -- it will have any retaliation against governments. And this is what they're careful of.

They are worried that there will be operations in the Arab world just as much as the U.S. is. And even Arab threat works, they're very careful about how they air the news, what analysts they host, and how they are tackling this topic. Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Rima Maktabi with reaction there from across the region, reporting there from Abu Dhabi. Thanks so much.

Of course, reaction has been pouring in from officials and lawmakers to the news, heralding justice for the victims of 9/11. And a little earlier, our Wolf Blitzer spoke with a New York City firefighter, one of the first responders to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Take a listen.


KENNETH SPECTH, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: As a New York City firefighter, first and foremost, I think I speak for all New York City firefighters when a give a heart felt thanks to members of the United States military who took on this very dangerous task.

I think the most important news we've heard tonight, much more important than even the death of Osama bin Laden, is the fact that we lost no troops. No American soldiers were killed. Very, very, very dangerous situation that they put themselves in harm's way to go and do the business of this country.

I think we're a blessed country tonight, Wolf. As a New York City firefighter who survived both September 11th and illness diagnosed from my time at September 11th, I'm proud to be an American tonight. I'm proud of our men and women in the service. I'm proud of the special operations.

And I know I spoke for every member of the New York City Fire Department when I say that I hope to God he rots in hell.


VAUSE: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he hopes bin Laden's death brings some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. Indeed, celebrations have broken out at Ground Zero.

And CNN's Jason Carroll is there. Jason, if you can describe the mood for us. I asked Joe Johns this question. There is celebration, but is there a moment of reflection, as well?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way to describe it down here, John, it's jubilant. I mean, the people have been coming down with each passing hour, more and more folks coming down here. They've been bringing their flags. They've been singing songs, reciting, you know, the Pledge of Allegiance.

Singing -- it's really been incredible to see what's been happening down here. It sort of makes you wonder what's going to happen as each hour continues to pass and when the morning comes and more folks are going to start to wake up and realize what's happening down here.

I want to bring in someone very important to talk about the significance of this day. This is Lieutenant Dan Choi. He is a veteran of the war in Iraq. And you remember what happened during the 9/11. You were at West Point at that time. Tell me exactly what this night means for you.

LT. DAN CHOI, U.S. ARMY: Tonight means that we're all American. Whether we are Christian Americans or Muslim American, gay Americans or straight Americans, we are all Americans and that's what we're celebrating here tonight. I don't think we have anything else that we need to celebrate than that.

CARROLL: You know, as I've been down here for the past few hours, I think a lot of people said to me, this is a night -- this is a day that we thought would never come. Or we were wondering when it would come. Does it finally seem real to you?

CHOI: Well, there's been a lot of things in my journey that I've wondered when that victory or when that vindication would come. For me, I had sometimes lost hope in my personal journey. But I know that so long as we tell ourselves from the very first moments of stepping up to serve our country that we will never give up until we accomplish what it is we set out to achieve, then we're going to be all right.

CARROLL: You know, I think a lot of people -- I speak for a lot people who thank you for your service to the country and for what you've done for the United States. And I think a lot of people are now finally feeling a sense of closure. Are you feeling that, as well?

CHOI: I am. And I would like to say that there are many times in our journey where we didn't think that there would be a victory that could pass over all of -- and calm all of our nerves. But what we learned throughout this past decade is that the only antidote to victimization is confrontation, a confrontation of our fears, of our own inadequacies, that knows no compromise when our values are at stake.

And the values of integrity, courage and serving one another will lead us forward after this.

CARROLL: Lieutenant Dan Choi, I want to thank you very much for coming down here and being with us this evening. It's not just folks like Lieutenant Dan Choi who have come down here. I also want to introduce this gentleman as well, Calvin Roy. He's from Texas


CARROLL: Living here now.

ROY: Living here now.

CARROLL: came down.

ROY: I came down. I was watching CNN. Wolf was talking about --

CARROLL: we were glad you were watching CNN.

ROY: I like CNN. It's a good news organization. But I remember where I was at when the towers came down because my TV was set as my alarm. And then about 20 minutes later they said we was under attack.

And now we felt like we was together like a family. Ten years later, things have changed. And now I remember where I was at when the newscast came on that they caught him and they had killed him. And I feel again, you know, we're one family. We're one people. We're all Americans, just like Lieutenant Choi said.

CARROLL: Because I think people who are watching now, it's hard for them to sort of get a sense of what it feels like to be down here. It does feel like you're taking part.

ROY: It's closure. It's closure. It's a chapter in our American history that's over. And what we need to send the Congress, the Senate, the House and the president that it's over now. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can bring the troops home because we've won. It's over.

CARROL: Calvin Roy from Texas, I want to thank you very much for being here.

Very quickly before we go, John and Rosemary, I also want to bring in Steve Feldheim. You came down here. You volunteered. You helped clean this area up when it was all hands on deck to get as many people down here to help.

What is this like for you to come back ten years later to have a night like tonight?

STEVE FELDHEIM, 9/11 CLEAN UP WORKER: I feel like it's a little bit of a closure for the families and my friends that I have lost down here, for their families. They try to maybe pick up and move on now. The will never bring anybody back. But this will be some sort of closure for them.

And just the fact of all these people coming together and reuniting. And it's kind of reminiscent of what it was like right after 9/11 when the whole city came together. This is what the country needs now, some healing. And hopefully everybody coming together will help spread the word that we are united. We are a great country. And this is what freedom does.

VAUSE: I want to thank you again for your efforts during that time, during 9/11.'

And, again, John, Rosemary, I think that's what is really happening. More and more people are turning on their TV sets. And they're hearing what's happening down here. They're coming down here to sort of take part in this celebration.

And really that's what you have to call it. People have their flag, little mini flags, bringing them down here and singing and taking part in history. John, Rosemary.

VAUSE: Jason, just very quickly, compare this to the anniversaries that you have seen at Ground Zero over the years, because it just seems to me that the mood and everything has just done a complete 180- degree turn. This is now a different place.

CARROLL: It really is. It's incredible, because I think as I was walking down here, I heard one woman say, I never thought I would -- I would be taking part in a celebration at Ground Zero. And that is exactly what's happening down here now.

We've seen the neighborhood change. For those who have been in the New York for a period of time now, some of us thought, you know, maybe this area would never come back. And slowly but surely over the years, we've seen it come back.

And now to have people come down here and take part in a celebration, it's really quite moving. It's moving and it's something that's special to be a part of.

VAUSE: Yes. Jason, you were there for 9/11. I was there a few hours after you. It really is an incredible day. Thank you, Jason Carroll, live in New York.

CHURCH: It most certainly is. And of course, world reaction to the news of bin Laden's death came quickly on social media. Pauline Chiou is watching the online buzz from CNN Hong Kong. In fact, Pauline, there was some very early chatter on Twitter, wasn't there?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT: Very early, Rosemary. The buzz about bin Laden actually began well before official word arrived. And this was one of the first Tweets breaking the news, about half an hour ahead of President Obama's speech.

Now this Tweet came from the chief of staff to former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He posted "so I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden."

Then take a look at how the White House brought together social media with the president's historic address on their Facebook page. Live video of the speech appeared alongside a stream of status updates from users commenting on bin Laden's death.

And when big news breaks, we often see Twitter just light up with photos as people on the scene post what they're seeing at the moment. Since most people experienced this event at home in front of their televisions, they're posting photos of that moment.

Take a look. This one is from singer of the Blackeyed Peas. He Tweeted a photo of people watching CNN on a small monitor in South Korea. And you see more from others from around the world, as people try to capture this moment when they heard the news.

Some posted photos. Others posted their reaction. For example, boxer Oscar de la Hoya Tweeted "May 1st Hitler died in 1945. May 1st, Osama died in 2011."

And from actor Neil Patrick Harris, he Tweeted "everyone is sitting around my living room mouths agape. Wow! What a night. Thank you, Mr. President, for such an eloquent speech."

And we're seeing some people suggesting it may be time to reconsider some post 9/11 security measures. John Dresner Tweeted "if Osama bin Laden is dead, can we please have our rights back"

So, Rosemary, the Tweets are moving at a pretty rapid clip right now. And we'll have much for you in the next hour.

CHURCH: They most certainly are. Pauline Chiou, thanks for keeping an eye on that.

I just want to just let everybody know that the Afghan president is actually speaking at this time, Hamid Karzai. We will get a translation of this, of course, and bring you the details as they come in to us. But we're keeping a very close eye on that, of course.

His reaction to the news today that Osama bin Laden is dead.

VAUSE: Yes, they've had a very tense relationship between Mr. Karzai and Mr Obama. Maybe it will get a little bit better after the events today.

CHURCH: Indeed. We shall see what he has to say. Let's talk more about this successful operation in Pakistan now.

VAUSE: We're joined now by a retired brigadier Mark Kimmitt, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs. General Kimmitt , thanks for being with us live in our Washington bureau at this last hour. We appreciate it. If you can just walk through how this operation played out. It started with intelligence back in August. And then it's gone through a series of months. Finally the president authorized action and then they got bin Laden. That seems like an awfully long time frame.

GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET), FMR. U.S. ASST SECY. OF STATE: It's really not. If you take a look at the intelligence cycle, going from information to intelligence to targetable intelligence to actionable intelligence, it takes a long time to develop that intelligence to where you can actually target and act upon it.

So I'm not surprised it took that long. And I think the success of the mission indicates it probably was time well spent in developing the target set.

CHURCH: Talking of time, what is extraordinary is the whole operation apparently took 40 minutes. Run us through what would have happened, you know, from this helicopter raid to the point at which the bullets went through the head of Osama bin Laden, as we're hearing.

KIMMITT: Well, it's not always helpful to talk about tactics, techniques and procedures. But as you can imagine they probably isolated the compound with a force both outside. And then you brought in some very specialized forces, either Navy Seals or joint special operation forces to do actually what is in the vernacular called door kicking.

Went in, very quickly subdued the target, got the target set out of there, and they got out of there as quickly as possible before any potential reinforcements or other assistance could be brought in to fight the Americans.

The fact that there were no casualty, the fact that there were no injuries at all among the Americans, as I understand, is testimony to how well-trained and frankly how well-experienced these forces are.

VAUSE: When we look at the intelligence and all the information, which is slowly coming out, about this compound where bin Laden was living -- it was a massive compound, built maybe five years ago. Huge tall fences and bin Laden had been there with his youngest wife maybe since late last year.

Could there be any doubt that the someone within the Pakistani government or within the Pakistani intelligence knew that bin Laden was there?

KIMMITT: Well, I certainly don't know that to be the case. It would be hard to believe that a person of such significance such as Osama bin Laden, who also travels with a fairly large entourage, that they could be inside that compound without some local knowledge, local official knowledge.

But I don't know that to be the case. But it would be hard to believe that wouldn't be the indication.

VAUSE: And what do you make of the fact that he was actually -- they got him in a mansion, as opposed to in a cave in the frontier area?

KIMMITT: Well, I think it goes back to your earlier comment about whether he was getting external support or not. All indications, the fact that he was not living in a cave would mean that he was not operating independently, but that he was getting assistance and aid and comfort from others either in that area or from abroad.

CHURCH: And sir, a lot of people celebrating, certainly in the United States and across the globe, not everywhere, of course. But is this the beginning? Is this the end? I mean really can people be celebrating at this point, because this isn't the end of what al Qaeda promises for the future , is it?

KIMMITT: No, it certainly doesn't. And in many ways, we felt very much the same way when Saddam was captured. We recognized that was an important day. We recognized it was cause for some measure of celebration. It was cause to be proud of those soldiers that put their lives on the line to accomplish this mission.

But we also understood the day after Saddam was captured that there would be a next day and a day after that and a day after that. So congratulations to those that planned and executed this mission. I think as many have said, there is a reason to have a sense of closure.

But there's still a lot of work to be done. This is an organization that has affiliates around the world. And until those affiliates are destroyed, I don't think we can rest soundly.

VAUSE: OK, General Mark Kimmitt live for us in Washington. Thank you, sir.

KIMMITT: All right, thank you.

CHURCH: It is just five minutes away from 3:00 in the morning here in the United States. So let's check those crowds. Even at that early hour, they are still gathering, celebrating outside the White House there and at Ground Zero, if we can bring that shot up, as well.

So people across the United States very happy to hear this news. They heard it some hours ago, about five hours ago now, but people slowly started to gather at the White House. Now the crowds are there. It's going to be interesting to see what happens the next morning.

VAUSE: What I think is truly extraordinary, when I cast my mind back to all of those anniversaries that we have seen at -- saw someone being thrown in the air then. All of those anniversary, those somber memorials that have taken place at Ground Zero and all the controversy over the site and the rebuilding and all the heartbreak and all the anguish over the last almost ten years now, to see these scenes of jubilation is -- really is something historic and something special to be watching here live on CNN.

CHURCH: That is right. As it starts a new day, this Monday, the start of a new week in the United States. It's going to be interesting to see how those people go starting their working day.

All right. Well, just moving on now, some more details about the U.S.-led operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

CNN's Gloria Borger tells us about the compound where the world's most wanted terrorist was hiding. Take a listen.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This compound in Abbottabad was apparently built in 2005. The physical security of it was extraordinary. It has 12 to 18-foot walls with barbed wire around it.

Access had been restricted by two security gates. One official said they had been paying attention to the couriers going in and out of this building. One of the couriers apparently attracted their attention.

Another thing was that residents burn their trash as opposed to neighbors who just put their trash out for collection. One would think that that might raise a few eyebrows.

So -- and the property is apparently valued at one million, but it had no Internet or telephone service. So this was something that they were clearly looking at and that this operation had been monitoring for quite some time before the president gave the go ahead on this on Friday.

So -- and that more people were living at the compound than the two brothers and the families who are presumed to be living there. And there was one whose size and makeup matches Osama bin Laden.


CHURCH: And we're going to take a quick break now. We'll have more of our breaking news coverage after this.

VAUSE: Yes, stay with us. You're watching CNN.