Return to Transcripts main page
CNN BREAKING NEWS
Osama bin Laden is Dead
Aired May 2, 2011 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. From CNN Center, I'm Rosemary Church.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Vause. And you're watching the coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden.
CHURCH: Well, U.S. President Barack Obama says justice has been done. Osama bin Laden, the man widely seen as the embodiment of terror has been killed.
VAUSE: It was a message greeted by jubilance crowds in Washington and New York, reasons that Mr. Obama clearly understood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It was nearly 10 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 planes 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 action 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 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 offer 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: There had been conflicting reports regarding Pakistan's involvement in the operation that helped U.S. forces to locate bin Laden. For more on that and other details of the operation, we turn to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh who is live once again in Kabul, Afghanistan.
So, Nick, what's the deal? Were the Pakistanis involved or not?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They say they were. Very early on, they came forward and said, yes, our intelligence operatives were on the ground during this and we have prior knowledge to it. And that conflicts greatly with what we're hearing from American officials across the Atlantic, in Washington. So, clearly, two different viewpoints here.
Obviously, the Pakistanis would want to show they're out in front of it, preempt criticism, why on earth was bin Laden able to hide here for a number of months -- that would be the question reverberating I'm sure for the next couple of days. In terms of the actual operation itself, we are hearing of helicopters which dropped Special Forces into this compound, high walls, heavily fortified, perhaps worth up to $1 million where bin Laden had been hiding out.
Key to this, though, it appears that communications in and out of this compound there were none. There were no mobile phones, no Internet apparently, and I've heard also, couriers coming to and from were also under observations.
So, questions will be asked as to how he was able to be there for so long. But I think it's possible to perhaps explain that this was a relatively discreet, covert compound. Plus, also, in a very big city, lots of people around. So, the potential for him to disguise himself in that area is significantly greater -- John.
VAUSE: And, Nick, a short time ago, we saw on Afghan television that the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was talking. He was holding a news conference. Do we know any details of what he said?
WALSH: I can only paraphrase him at this point, but he was basically saying I hope the world will now believe that Afghanistan is not the place where terrorists are, and that they should not shall hunted down in the homes of women and children here. Effectively alluding to the NATO campaign, its toll on civilians, and I think, really, trying to seize on this as a potentially P.R. opportunity, where he's saying, look, we've all along said that al Qaeda and the insurgents you're hunting are across the border in Pakistan and perhaps, I think, trying to -- a degree of national, not pride, but at least reminding Afghans that this at least shows they have not been the ones who have been hiding bin Laden -- John.
VAUSE: There's also some talk now that analysts suggesting that the U.S. could start drawing down troops a little sooner rather than later. The original plan was 2014. Any talk of that and what the reaction or implications of that might be? WALSH: I think that the death of bin Laden provides a very easy political narrative for the Obama administration, and they can say, look, the guy is dead, he's the reason we went there, and we can start to move away from here.
But there's a much more complicated situation on the ground. Only recently people have talked about the presence of al Qaeda re-emerging in some of the havens where U.S. forces have withdrawn from on the Pakistani border. So, concerns about that.
But I think also, really, this is about trying to ensure that America leaves behind a functioning state. The reason why they came here in the first place was the Taliban had used the dilapidated kind of collapsed nature of Afghanistan as a place in which they could allow al Qaeda a safe haven.
So, I think there will be two arguments. One, perhaps, from a democratic U.S. side suggesting, yes, it is time to leave. And perhaps another argument saying, you know, that the fact this man is dead does not operationally change the situation on the ground and perhaps we might even see what remains of al Qaeda trying to retaliate and trying to raise this operation here in the coming months -- John.
VAUSE: Nick, thank you. Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Kabul -- Rosemary.
CHURCH: Well, New Yorkers have awaited this day for nearly 10 years, the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers general evokes a somber mood, of course. But celebrations have broken out at Ground Zero.
And CNN's Jason Carroll is there taking it all in and talking to many people on the ground there. And it is an extraordinary day for those people who really saw for them 9/11, it was a horrendous day for them at the ground there but also for the rest of the world as it watched on.
But what are people saying to you now?
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, first of all, I have to say, you know, when you come down here, Rosemary -- I mean, you really get this sense of the celebration. You see the people with their flags, you hear the people singing, you hear the people chanting. But it's also a moment of reflection for a lot of people who are coming down here.
I want to introduce to one, Diane Massaroli. You can see right now, she's holding the picture of her husband. Her husband Michael was killed on 9/11. This must be an incredibly conflicting day for you in terms of what you're feeling, in terms of being down here.
DIANE MASSAROLI, 9/11 WIDOW: Definitely. It's definitely bittersweet. When I first heard, my son had woken me up and he said, "Mommy, I think you want to put the TV on and you're going to want to see what's on." And I started crying right away, but I feel a sense of relief, of peacefulness also. CARROLL: Is it really a sense of relief? Because I think of -- you know, a lot of people who lost loved ones on that day might have conflicting feelings on a day like today when you see all the folks who were down here celebrating for obvious reasons, but is that the emotion you're feeling most?
MASSAROLI: I feel a bunch of different -- of course, I'm sad. I'm missing him all the time, but I feel that justice is done and that's a great feeling for me. And I do feel some overall calm. That I haven't felt in almost 10 years.
CARROLL: Your husband Michael worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. He was on the 101st floor when it happened. Ten years, did you ever think this day would come?
MASSAROLI: Never. I was shocked, never thought it would happen and I never thought it would give me a feeling of closure. I didn't believe that there could be closure because my husband's remains were never found.
So, I didn't think that this would ever give me closure. But in a way, it does. I feel better. I feel like I could put a new foot forward and maybe start a new chapter in my life.
CARROLL: Well, I think a lot of people are probably watching and are standing right behind you. So, I thank you for coming down and taking the time to speak with us.
I also want to take an opportunity, Diane also knows Mario Costagliola, you guys are friends. You're an Army vet.
MARIO COSTAGLIOLA, ARMY VETERAN: Yes.
CARROLL: And tell me what this day means to you, as you come down here. You see all the folks who are out here, who are celebrating.
COSTAGLIOLA: It has a lot of personal meaning to me. I served here on Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, later served in Iraq. And for me, this is also kind of a bit of a closure. I remember President Bush vowing, I watched it right down the block here on TV when he vowed that we'd bring our enemies -- we'd bring our enemies to justice, justice to our enemies and that's the first thing I thought of tonight when I heard the news.
CARROLL: Right. Mario Costagliola and Diane Massaroli, I want to thank both of you for taking the time to come down here, share your feelings -- not just with us, but so many people out there watching and taking place in, taking part in what is history down here at Ground Zero -- as so many people come down here, Rosemary, and, John, to celebrate, to reflect as these two are doing. And for some, this is not just a time for celebration but it's also time they can finally bring closure to a very painful chapter in their lives.
Back to you.
CHURCH: That's right. Jason Carroll there at Ground Zero. And that's the word we're hearing all of the time here is "closure." Thanks so much -- John.
VAUSE: Rosemary, we want to get more now on what will happen with Osama bin Laden's body. The U.S. officials have said it will be handled in the Islamic tradition.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve has more on that right now.
Jeanne, I believe you have some more details about what they plan to do with his body.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, according to a U.S. official, spoken to by our national -- national security producer Pam Benson, this U.S. official says that the body has already been buried at sea and that the body has been handled in the traditional Islamic tradition. The official would not elaborate beyond that.
So, the headline here, the body has already been disposed of. It's been disposed of at sea. No details on how and why that was done.
One could speculate that one reason might have been that anybody who wanted to be able to find that body would not be able to do so with a burial at sea.
John, back to.
VAUSE: Won't this actually lead to some problems of conspiracy theorists, of people wanting to see the body now? You know, the first thing that occurs to me is that people are going to say that this is all part of the U.S. conspiracy that he is really still alive?
MESERVE: I would have to imagine, John, that they have recorded this is some fashion, that there is some sort of documentary record of the body. Will that satisfy people who harbor those kinds of theories? It may not. It actually may not.
But this is the course the U.S. government apparently has taken.
VAUSE: Well, when Uday and Qusay were killed, the bodies were displayed. So, there's been a deliberate change of tactics, if you like, in this case.
MESERVE: Apparently so -- I wish we had more detail to bring you, John, but that's the bare facts that they're giving us at this time.
VAUSE: It is a truly surprising turn of events. Jeanne Meserve, thank you so much.
MESERVE: You bet.
CHURCH: It most certainly is and joining me on the phone is someone we all remember from this successful overthrow of the Taliban in Kabul back in 2001. He is Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, one of the anti-Taliban commanders, who years later was also a candidate for president of Afghanistan. We are not disclosing Dr. Abdullah's current location at this time for obvious reasons. But, Doctor, I wonder if I could just get you to respond to that news that we just heard from Jeanne Meserve, quite shocking, in fact. Of course, the world just absorbing this information that Osama bin Laden has been killed, that he is dead. But now, we're hearing his body has already been buried at sea.
What's your response to that?
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FMR. ANTI-TALIBAN COMMANDER (via telephone): My response would be of him being killed, what's happened to the body? It was mentioned earlier to some conspiracy theories -- conspiracy theories which have been around all along that we are aware of. But that the impact of what has happened, you know, the far-reaching, beyond (INAUDIBLE) but as we mentioned, with regards to Afghanistan, in regards the region, in regards the world, against terrorism throughout the world.
CHURCH: But do you think this could raise problems as far as the U.S. sort of telling the world that, indeed, Osama bin Laden is dead. But a lot of people saying we want proof of that. We want to be sure that that is most certainly the case.
All right. Clearly, we have lost our connection there with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. We will try to reconnect with him -- John.
VAUSE: But those crowds still remain outside the White House, in Washington, D.C. There was an unexpected surge of revelers there, the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Correspondent Joe Johns is there. He joins us once again live.
And, Joe, it's getting quite late there. But the crowd is not going anywhere.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, diminishing just a bit perhaps, but not in spirit -- I can tell you that, John. And who knows what it'll be like through the evening.
It's strange how spontaneous crowds rise and fall through the night. I wouldn't want to predict.
However, I wanted to just give you some sense of what we're looking at here right now. What we've seen is a lot of military personnel. A lot of college kids, a number of veterans.
You know, in our last live shot we spoke to a woman who was a veteran of Afghanistan. As well as someone who had been at the Pentagon on 9/11. Many of these people who came here came, came with American flags -- red, white and blue. You can see a lot of that, a lot of excitement, a lot of college students, as well.
So, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Anyway, you have a general idea. People are very happy, and I think probably I'll throw it back to you.
VAUSE: Joe Johns, the rock star there outside the White House. They still have the camera. They came running. Don't know if Joe can still hear us. Probably can't.
We're going for battery power. We can still look at this site.
OK, it's quarter past 3:00 in the morning and they still have energy, which is amazing to see. Is Joe still there? Joe?
No, we've lost Joe.
One interesting thing about a lot of people are now saying, you can see by the crowds outside the White House -- a lot of people are now saying President Obama has sealed his re-election in 2012 with this announcement.
CHURCH: This is it. This is the most important announcement he has made in his first term. And if he has a second term, still the most important announcement.
VAUSE: This has been the focus of U.S. foreign policy ever since 9/11. George W. Bush couldn't make this announcement. Barack Obama did. Candidate Obama said repeatedly, "If I am president, we will kill bin Laden."
CHURCH: And he has done that.
All right. Well, more now about the successful operation in Pakistan. I'm joined once again by retired U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for political military affairs.
Thank you, sir, for talking with us again, and staying up at this very late hour.
Do want to just talk to you very quickly about this news that we got from Jeanne Meserve just a very short time ago, that, of course, as the world celebrate -- most of the world celebrates the death of Osama bin Laden, we now hear that his body has already been buried at sea. What's your reaction to that? What do you think of the likely ramifications of that?
GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FMR. U.S. ASST. SECY. OF STATE: Well, I'm sure the conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this, about why it was done? Was it done? Is he still alive?
Quite frankly, bin Laden was famous for putting out videos, bin Laden still alive. I'm sure we're going to see a video of him quite soon.
CHURCH: Well, that's a very good point, indeed.
Let's go back to this operation, because I think a lot of people are quite amazed. It's been nearly 10 years and people have been looking, the U.S. and others have been looking for Osama bin Laden. Suddenly, of course, we hear that on Friday, the U.S. president gave the word to go ahead, to seek out and kill Osama bin Laden. Walk us through what likely happened.
KIMMITT: Well, first of all, I don't think this just happened on Friday. More than likely, this had been an intelligence operation that had been developed for months and months and months. The information became intelligence. The intelligence became targetable intelligence. And then further refined became actionable intelligence.
And once the intelligence got to the point where the commanders who were going to be putting soldiers at risk said, I think we've got enough to work on, then they, in consultation with their chain of command, got permission from the president and executed the mission.
CHURCH: Why do you think that Osama bin Laden was able to hide near the Pakistan capital for what appeared to be a fairly long time?
KIMMITT: Well, that's going to be the major question that's asked in the days and weeks to come. Was the Pakistani government complicit or some local officials complicit? Were external organizations outside of Pakistan complicit? I think we're just going to have to wait and see the answer to that.
But it would seem very, very hard to believe that somebody could be in that area for an extended period of time without some local official being aware of it. So -- but, again, I'm only speculating, and time will tell.
CHURCH: I don't -- not sure whether you were able to hear what the Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai had to say. But, of course, he's celebrating in his own way because, of course, the capture and the consequence killing occurred on Pakistani soil.
KIMMITT: Well, it certainly would have been an embarrassment for the Afghani president if, in fact, it turns out all this time period, he had been inside of Afghanistan. In some cases, it would be an embarrassment for our own intelligence services because we are so heavily -- our presence is so heavy inside of Afghanistan.
The fact is, he was in Pakistan, and if the Afghani president wants to now make an issue between himself and Pakistan over this, that's probably not a wise choice or a wise move to make.
CHURCH: Now, for a lot of people certainly in the United States, they're experiencing a sense of closure at this time. But this isn't the end, is it? How much should the American public and others across the globe be on alert here?
KIMMITT: Well, in the near term, I think there's every reason to be on higher state of alert than we've been in some time. Clearly, the al Qaeda organization which has now lost their spiritual and ideological leader has got to demonstrate to the world that it's still a viable organization. The only way they can do that is by prosecuting some operations to demonstrate that they are still alive and still dangerous.
And so, there's every reason in the world to increase the threat warnings at this point.
CHURCH: Yes, and that, of course, is the concern. But they would have been preparing for this day presumably. What sort of impact do you think this has had on the al Qaeda leadership, because presumably they're prepared for this?
KIMMITT: Well, they are. But for years, bin Laden has not had an operational role from all reports that I've read. He's been more of an ideological figure, a leadership figure, an iconic figure, so to speak, but not one really who is planning day-to-day operations. Every year or so, he may put out some commanders intent to sort of keep the organization moving in a certain direction. But, by and large, the hard work is being done by the affiliates in the specific countries, in Yemen, in the Maghreb -- as we saw with Zarqawi inside of Iraq.
So, it will have an iconic importance, his loss. But in terms of the day-to-day operations of al Qaeda, I wouldn't expect to see a significant change in the near term.
CHURCH: All right. U.S. Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt -- thanks for staying up. It's 3:21 in the morning here in the United States and you were good to stay with us. Appreciate it.
KIMMITT: Glad to do so.
VAUSE: Rosemary, the buzz about bin Laden's death spread quickly online and Anna Coren joins us now from Hong Kong with more.
In fact, it wasn't just the buzz that spread, it was Twitter, which pretty much broke the news.
ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, John. We are seeing widespread reaction from former leaders to ordinary people. Well, this is the Facebook page of former U.S. President George W. Bush, when he issued a statement after hearing of bin Laden's death from President Obama.
What Mr. Obama says, "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, news that Osama bin Laden had been killed began to leak out on Twitter, most point to this tweet as the first real report of his death. Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "So, I'm told by a reputable person, they have killed Osama bin Laden." Well, that news spread very quickly. Less than an hour after Urbahn's tweet almost 18 percent of all tweets had the word "Osama" in them.
By the time President Obama's speech finished, there were over 4,000 tweets a second talking about the story. A significant jump in traffic but short of the record 7,000 tweets a second set during New Year's Eve.
But Keith Urbahn might not have been the first person to break the story. It looks like this I.T. consultant in Abbottabad might have been live-tweeting the raid on bin Laden's compound as it was happening. Well, he talks about a helicopter hovering over the city at 1:0 a.m., something he says is very rare. And later, he mentions a loud blast which he then says might have been a helicopter going down.
We've reached out to him but have yet to hear back. We have no real way of verifying whether he really hear the American helicopters or not, but it's worth noting he was in the city when it happened and was posting his tweets hours before we heard that Obama was set to make the statement.
Well, let's step back for a moment and look at some of the key events in bin Laden's past. Well, he founded al Qaeda in 1988, but the group did not become a terror network until 1991. Well, the next year, that being 1992, bin Laden allegedly sent some of his followers to Somalia to fight U.S. troops there.
Well, in late February 1993, a bomb exploded at New York's World Trade Center. Bin Laden is named as a co-conspirator but not indicted.
In 1996, Bin Laden declares a holy war against U.S. forces. Two years later, he is charged with 224 counts of murder for the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Well, in 1999, he appears on the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives list for the very first time.
In 2000, bin Laden is linked to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American soldiers.
And as we all know, on September 11th, 2001, four U.S. commercial planes are hijacked. More than 3,000 people are killed.
Rosemary, back to you.
CHURCH: All right, thanks so much for that, Anna. Appreciate it.
And if you are just joining us, U.S. forces say they have killed Osama bin Laden in a surprise attack on the al Qaeda leader's residence in Pakistan. And it is prompting quite a reaction from around the world.
Ahmed Rashid is a journalist from Pakistan and joins us now on the line from Madrid.
Thank you, sir, for speaking with us. Your first reaction when you heard this, and then I do want to get an idea on how you will report this.
ASHMED RASHID, JOURNALIST (via telephone): Well, obviously, it's a great coup. It's closure for a lot of people, especially the victims of 9/11 which, by the way, included a lot of Pakistanis and Afghans who were trapped in the Twin Towers in New York. It will be closure for them. And it's a great day.
But at the same time, I think it must be said that, you know, al Qaeda has morphed into many different kinds of organizations over the last 10 years and we're not going to see the end of al Qaeda just with the death of bin Laden. In fact, there's a big danger that they're going to be revenge attacks possibly in Europe and the United States, but certainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by al Qaeda allies and al Qaeda has many allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and they're not going to rest easy with bin Laden's death.
CHURCH: And, of course, the big question, why was Osama bin Laden able to hide out in Pakistan for what appeared to be a long time, and not very far from the capital?
RASHID: Well, of course, this is really extremely stunning and it does remind us also of the way that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the number three al Qaeda who was caught in 2004 by the authorities, he was hiding out in Rawalpindi, right next to the army headquarters.
And now, we have -- Abbottabad is a city of about 300,000 people, but it's a military city. It's got an army brigade there. It's got a lot -- it's got only and largest academy for army cadets. It's got a military hospital. And down the road is another town called Halil (ph) where there is three divisions of the army base.
So, this is a town that is very -- you know, these towns were built by the British, during the empire, and they were very, very -- they were built to be tightly-controlled by the military. And a civilian population that was very small and basically serviced the military.
And here, we have in the middle of this town, this huge villa coming up and very strange goings on and it seems, according to the American press, that U.S. intelligence seems to be following this villa, the track of this villa for the last three or four years.
CHURCH: And, sir, explain to us some of the sensibilities that you do need to consider when reporting a story like this to an audience in Pakistan?
RASHID: Well, obviously -- you know, I mean Pakistan has been in a state of denial basically about bin Laden and it has constantly been telling its public that the Americans have it all wrong, that bin Laden and al Qaeda is based in Afghanistan, that there's no al Qaeda in Pakistan. Just three days ago, in fact, the army chief, General Kayani, was in Abbottabad, addressing the cadet college and saying that, you know, the back of militancy in Pakistan had been broken.
And so, in a sense, you know, I mean Pakistanis have been receiving a narrative for the last few years which has not exactly, you know, gone along with the realities on the ground, because Pakistan is faced with a very vicious Taliban movement which is backed by al Qaeda. The Afghan Taliban have been in Pakistan and reside there, recruit from there which is again something that is defied by the Pakistani authorities.
So, I think this death is going to lead to now -- there has been a series of tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, but depending on what exactly happened -- and we really don't know what happened -- but depending on what happened, this death is going to lead to enormous questions, I think, between the U.S. and Pakistan. CHURCH: Indeed. And as you point out, we don't know the role of Pakistan at this point, but it certainly I'm sure in the coming hours, perhaps days, we will find out more. But I do want to ask one more question before you go, because we have just learned a very short time ago, in fact, that Osama bin Laden's body has already being buried at sea. And I will be interested to get your reaction to that and what sort of ramifications there could be as a result of that.
RASHID: Well, obviously, that has been done so that, you know, his grave is not known to anyone and that it does not become a kind of martyr's place, because a lot of dead al Qaeda leaders and even fighters, their graves have been turned into shrines in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. So, obviously, that avoids that.
But this will be, obviously, also disliked enormously by, you know, by Muslims, because bodies that, you know, that people who do die on land have every right, you know, according to religion and custom to be buried in the land. And the fact that, you know, his body was taken out to sea and dumped it the sea somewhere is something that probably is not going to go down very well with a lot of people.
CHURCH: Interesting. All right, Ahmed Rashid, a journalist from Pakistan, thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your perspective on this news -- John.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, news that Osama bin Laden's body will now in fact or has now been buried at sea came to CNN from one official. Apparently, it was coming to us from one spokesperson who basically just told us his body has already been buried at sea.
Now, U.S. President Barack Obama says the 9/11 mastermind was killed in a small U.S. operation carried out on Sunday -- not in the lawless mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan but rather in a mansion located in a heart of a busy city just 100 kilometers north of Pakistan's capital city.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
VAUSE: The news was greeted by exuberant crowds at Ground Zero where bin Laden's most infamous attack was carried out just three months short of an entire decade ago. Now, for years, analysts have speculated where bin Laden was hiding, often invoking the remote areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now, we know he was in a large compound in a densely populated city close to Islamabad.
And CNN's John King shows us the layout of the region and looks at why the operation by U.S. forces was, in fact, a daring one.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How many times in the last 10 years have the Pakistani government told us, no, Osama bin Laden is here in Afghanistan? How many times that the Afghanistan officials told us, now, he's somewhere, Waziristan perhaps, in the mountainous region here? It turns out tonight -- and let's take a closer look and we'll measure it out for you as we zoom in -- it turns out where was he? About 120 miles to the east of the Afghanistan border, Waziristan -- one of the places, the tribal regions where it was said so often, Osama bin Laden is probably be hiding here. Instead, no -- 120 miles to the east, 30 miles north of Islamabad.
Let's take a closer look at this town, Abbottabad. We'll take a closer look as we come in and you see somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million people. You see, it's pretty highly developed here -- a lot of tight, very closely in residential areas. You come up here and you look up here, a lot of educational institutions here.
I want to bring you in on a location here -- this is where we are told tonight, somewhere right in this area here people are saying is where this played out. You see a large complex here. You see other large complexes here. You see a lot of building here, walled off areas, residential complexes within, walled off, big complex here.
And then, Chris Lawrence was just saying they were worried about civilian casualties because of other development around. This is one of the places we are told to look tonight. We don't have an exact location yet. But this is the area.
And I just want to shrink this down a little bit, and just show you again, bring up the terrain of this town. It's in a mountain valley. You see around here and around the outskirts are mountains around the outskirts, you come into a valley. It's a city of about 1 million people.
Again, just look at this -- highly dense population up in here, Wolf. But as we look at this here, not in the mountains, not in Afghanistan, not in a cave in Waziristan, but in a very highly developed, highly populated area we are told is where this special operation played out.
It would be fascinating to get more of the details and just how they did this. But you can see right in here -- if the SEALs went into an area like this, what a high stakes, high-risk operation to try to capture and ultimately to kill Osama bin Laden.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And if they go in by helicopter and come down on ropes from the helicopter, you can only imagine how vulnerable those Navy SEALs might have been.
John, go back and show us the big picture, because I want our viewers to get a sense of how far from the Afghan border and the U.S. has a lot of military personnel, more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan right now -- if those helicopters did, in fact, come from a U.S. base in Afghanistan, they would have had a nice journey there. Give us the big picture once again.
KING: Absolutely. The U.S. military installations on this side of the border in Afghanistan, again, for the past 10 years as we have had asked the questions of presidents, of CIA directors, of anybody in the United States government, and of people in the Afghan and Pakistan governments, where is Osama bin Laden? The answer has, usually, been somewhere in this ballpark here.
U.S. military installations here -- you mentioned the 100,000-plus troops. The president himself, and we are now told by sources, launching this operation, not telling the government of Pakistan, only telling them after the operation took place. U.S. bases here coming across the border.
And, again, let's measure out exactly what we're talking about. As you watch, you zoom in here, and you come off and it would hit the measure and you see exactly what we're talking about -- 120 miles, once they came over the border, Wolf, 120 miles in, 30 miles north of the capital of Pakistan. Right in here, this takes out.
Again, for years, we have focused over here -- the tribal areas, the cave areas, the ungovernable areas of Pakistan. But instead, it turns out Osama bin Laden was living in a large city. This is not a suburb. This is a city of about 100,000 -- I'm sorry, of about 1 million people.
When you come in to it here and you come and you see how densely populated it is, a very different kind of operation that for years people have talked about, finding bin Laden in a cave, finding bin Laden in a remote area, finding bin Laden, protected by tribes up in the hills. No, in fact, it turns up that bin Laden was hiding in a very densely populated area.
And, again, we're told to look at a complex, something like this, somewhere in this ballpark right here, we are told tonight, one of the focuses of the operations.
And you can see some of the walls, you see large spaces. But you can also see all around it, all around it, densely populated areas, which shows you the risks that any of the elite forces that went in looking for, not only risks to the firefight that we know took place, but risk of civilian casualties.
And, again, a very bold decision of the president of the United States to launch this operation and tell the Pakistani government after the fact the U.S. Special Forces were right here on the ground.
VAUSE: U.S. officials say the Pakistani government was not notified ahead of time, in fact, only a handful of people knew all the details about this operation.
For more on this, we're joined by Elise Labott, who is at the U.S. State Department right now.
What does this is about relations, Elise, between Washington and Islamabad at this particular point in time?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN SENIOR STATE DEPT. PRODUCER: Well, John, in the last couple of months, U.S. relations with Pakistan have really been at an all-time low. We had the Raymond David case, that CIA agent that was arrested for killing a couple of young youth that he said were trying to kill him. Relations really bad over those drone strikes as well. And all this going on as the U.S. was planning this attack as President Obama said against bin Laden.
Certainly, trust between the two have never been good. And that's why U.S. officials say that they were not notifying the Pakistanis about this attack. But we're hearing from the Pakistanis that they were involved and said, hey, not so fast. The Pakistanis were involved.
Senior intelligence officials in Pakistan and other senior officials telling myself and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, that they were involved. They were helping with cordoning off the area. U.S. is really disputing that account.
So, what really a very delicate dance because the U.S. is saying that President Obama spoke to President Zardari, Pakistan is supporting them all the way -- really, they're both trying to feel their way about how they're dealing with this right now because this is certainly going to -- as we've been reporting -- open up a lot of tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan.
VAUSE: Yes. And the fact that President Obama gave Zardari a shout- out during his presidential address a few hours ago. Will that sort of smoothed things over or was there a lot more work to be done than that?
LABOTT: I think they're both trying to keep a calm, public face that the U.S. and Pakistani partnership is still on track -- as they've been trying to do in the last couple of weeks as these drone strikes have continued, they really, officials are kind of leaking to us and leaking to others, on both sides, that they're unhappy with the other. But publicly they're saying the partnership, the relationship is still very strong. I think we're going to see that in the next couple of days.
But as we've said on one hand, the U.S. is saying -- and Secretary Clinton about a year ago said to the Pakistanis when she was giving an address, I find it really hard to believe that if the Pakistani government doesn't know where Osama bin Laden is, you know, the U.S. has known about where he was for a long time. So, sending the message, "We know you know where he is," and if he was living in the compound really in the middle of a small city close to a military installation, the U.S. is wondering how come the Pakistanis haven't moved against him. At the same time, the Pakistanis are saying, "If you knew where he was, why didn't you tell us and let us go against him," John.
VAUSE: And, finally, Elise, there is a great deal of concern over what happens next. The State Department is issuing a travel warning. What exactly are the fears here? What could happen?
LABOTT: OK. Well, right now, the State Department issued a worldwide caution for all American. They're saying there could be a lot of anti-American sentiment in all areas.
And they're saying in these areas where there could be anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, in Pakistan -- don't leave your house as much as possible. Stay inside. Stay in your homes. Stay in your hotel. Avoid crowds.
And also U.S. bases and consulates around the world, all diplomatic facilities on high alert. And this really raises a lot of questions about what's going to happen now to the so-called "war on terror," is this a major victory in terms of U.S. curtailing terrorist attacks against the United States or as we've been saying, are some of these splinter groups that really haven't gained all that much support financially or operationally from al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, that's launched attacks against the United States, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, the Pakistani Taliban. These groups are still going to be launching attacks against the United States possibly. And how does this affect the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan?
These are all questions that there's going to be a lot of discussion of them in the next couple of days and weeks.
VAUSE: Elise, our State Department producer, it's been a long day. We appreciate you sticking with us. Thanks so much -- Elise Labott there.
CHURCH: All right, John, let's bring up some live pictures here because it was about five hours ago that the world started absorbing this news. We didn't, of course, get it officially from the president for a little while after that.
But certainly about five hours ago and people then once they understood that Osama bin Laden was now dead, they started moving toward the White House in Washington, D.C. And there's the people there. It is 3:40 in the morning at this time. And these people have gathered there, celebrating.
For a lot of people they are getting a sense of closure here with the news, the death of Osama bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda. One of the motion wanted men in the world.
So, we're just keeping an eye on that. Those live pictures.
We want to get reaction from across the Middle East region. There you go. The celebrations continue.
All right. We want to go to Rima Maktabi now who is standing for us at CNN Abu Dhabi.
Of course, great celebration across the United States, not necessarily across some parts of the Middle East. But when we spoke last hour, Rima, there haven't been a lot of reaction from Middle Eastern leaders. What are you hearing now? Any more?
RIMA MAKTABI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still, most Arab governments are silent, but we've been reaching out to people and some officials, one Yemeni official who cannot name himself or give on the record statements said it's historic news, many people, millions of people, will sleep peacefully tonight.
This is in the Arab world. Across the Middle East, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul said, "Terrorists and leaders of terrorists are captured alive or dead sooner or later," and this is the lesson, this is a statement he gave recently.
Other Arab governments have not given statements yet. We are waiting for Saudi Arabia, the most important country in this whole battle against terrorism, bin Laden is Saudi. He was denied the Saudi citizenship in 1991, and Saudi Arabia has been a victim of his terrorist attacks. However, many pro-al Qaeda members and people who like bin Laden and view him as a symbolic leader live in Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world -- Rosemary.
CHURCH: And, of course, a great caution presumably from these leaders not to quick to get out and respond because they do have to be careful what they say. But I'd be interested to get an idea how this is playing out in Arab media.
MAKTABI: It has been the headline news since early morning. Now, it's important to view how Arab media is covering the story for one reason, it was the Al Jazeera Arabic that first aired the first sound bites or videos of Osama bin Laden. And this channel has been criticized historically for airing these videos, whereas other people said, had it not been for Al Jazeera, we wouldn't foe who bin Laden is and wouldn't know what's happening.
Now, on the other hand, Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned channel, has been airing this news since early morning. They are very careful about how they cover this news.
First of all, they cannot rejoice about it because of some religious and Islamic rituals. But on the other hand, it is important news to the channel that hosted one of the most controversial shows against al Qaeda and terrorism.
These Arab networks are important because they impact the Arab population in a very high and important manner. People in the Arab world watch al Arabiya and Al Jazeera to know what's happening and react to this news.
Now, the current news that bin Laden was buried at sea, and according to Sharia laws, this is important for the Arab world. Here we haven't seen it yet on Arab networks cast aggressively because this may cast some sensitivities and how bin Laden was buried and dealt with.
On the one hand, bin Laden is hated by many people in the Arab world, even conservatives and Muslims. But on the other hand, he has some supporters here.
CHURCH: Indeed. And hence, a lot of caution on the part of many people when covering this story and rightly so. Rima Maktabi reporting there from Abu Dhabi, thanks so much.
VAUSE: Well, Rosemary, Israeli leaders are also celebrating what one statement called the liquidation of bin Laden. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed it as a resounding triumph for the U.S.
Joining us now from Jerusalem is correspondent Phil Black. And the Israelis, no doubt, will be very pleased, even though al Qaeda was never much of a direct threat to Israel.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, John. This news has been broadly welcomed here politically and by the people, as well. It is Holocaust Remembrance Day here in Israel, a very significant day, a somber reflective one where people remember the millions of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It's a very significant day here.
A short time ago, sirens rang out across the city. Everyone stops what they're doing. They stop in traffic. They stand still for a number of minutes to mark this. It is a day when broadcasting, television/radio, is normally dedicated to ceremonies marking the day or to other more reflective programming. A lot of broadcasters closed down for the day altogether.
But today, it's been a little bit different. It has been dedicated through the morning to rolling news coverage, rolling discussion on television and radio about just what this means, the political reaction as we've been saying has been very positive. Israel's foreign minister has said that in many ways, it's symbolic this has taken place on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
And from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has said that Israelis are feeling the same joy as the Americans today and he's talked about this being a resounding victory for all countries that are together fighting terrorism -- John.
VAUSE: And for about the West Bank and Gaza. Al Qaeda did have its supporters there. There's certainly a lot of admiration for Osama bin Laden, that he managed to avoid capture by the U.S. for so very, very long. What's the reaction there?
BLACK: Well, I think Israel will be very interested in this today as well, what will be the reaction among Palestinians. Israel will tell you that there are al Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Gaza Strip. Al Qaeda affiliated in the sense that they share the same global ideas for jihad and Islamist politics. They are there, they're small in number and influence, and as much as they are an irritant to Israel, equally so they are to Hamas in itself, an extremist group, but governs the Gaza Strip currently and focused in opposing Israel and Israel's existence.
You may that remember after the 9/11 attacks, there were some scenes of celebration among Palestinians, celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers. It will be interesting to see as the day progresses what the reaction among Palestinians may be, because equally so, this is a point they've struggled, their plight against Israel was something that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda has spoken about that over the years that followed.
But while it would seem that Osama bin Laden claimed to have cared for the Palestinians, it does not necessarily mean that most Palestinians cared for Osama bin Laden. They are not necessarily Islamist in their outlook. Fatah, the party that has dominated Palestinian politics for so long is very secularist. That it will be interesting to see as the day progress just what the reaction among Palestinians will be to this news that Osama bin Laden has died -- John.
VAUSE: Yes. OK, Phil Black there live for us in Jerusalem -- keeping a close watch on the situation there, across Israel and also the West Bank and Gaza. Thank you, Phil.
CHURCH: Well, if you have just joined us, you're tuned in to CNN's special coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden.
And the crowds of Americans have been celebrating in the streets overnight and also been a strong reaction from the international community.
Let's turn to our Zain Verjee who joins us now from CNN London -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Rosemary.
Well, the United Kingdom has been a staunch ally with the United States in fighting terror. Just a short while ago, the prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, had this to say. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This news will be welcomed right across our country. Of course, it does not mark the end of the threat we face from extremist's terror. Indeed, we'll have to be particularly vigilant in the weeks ahead. But it is, I believe, a massive step forward.
Osama bin Laden was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent men, women and children right across the world, people of every race and religion. He was also responsible for ordering the death of many, many British citizens, both here and in other parts of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: More reaction from other parts in Europe here. Rosemary, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy calling it a major event in the world's struggle against terrorism. Germany's foreign minister is saying it was good news for free-thinking men. And Italy's foreign minister says that it was a victory of good against evil, of justice against malignancy -- Rosemary.
CHURCH: All right. Zain Verjee, keeping an eye on developments there in London -- thanks so much.
VAUSE: Well, our joining us here now is our executive editor, Tim Lister, who has actually been following this story pretty much since --
CHURCH: From the beginning.
VAUSE: -- September 11th, 2001. We were together in Tora Bora for a time.
TIM LISTER, CNN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: We were there.
VAUSE: And we've been, you know, across the region.
So, let's just start with Tora Bora and what happened after that. Why couldn't they get bin Laden for such a long time?
LISTER: I think after the first few months, the trail ran cold. Everything suggested that they had a pretty good idea in the immediate aftermath of Tora Bora where he might have gone, but then the trail ran pretty cold. Someone in German intelligence suggested they were on to him again for a little while in 2004, but I remember leaving Tora Bora in the company of a great Pakistani fixer that we had.
And as we left and went through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, he pointed to the left and said, there's places up there where man has never set foot, that's where he's gone.
LISTER: And that was Kunar province. And a lot of people said that for the longest time, that's probably where he was, Kunar province, which is actually only about 120 miles away from where he was finally found.
CHURCH: So, Tim, how surprised were you when news first came? About what had happened?
LISTER: Very surprised, simply because the location. You're talking somewhere barely 50 miles from the capital of Pakistan. You're talking somewhere that's a major garrison town, where the Pakistani military, many of them retire. There's golf club, hockey fields.
This is a genteel hill station. It was part of the British garage (ph). And suddenly, it's become the place where the most wanted man in the world was finally located.
VAUSE: Terror (ph) capital. Does -- one thing I'm curious about, the fact he was suddenly in this million-dollar mansion, not in a cave. You know, he was surrounded by luxury, if you like, and this was a man who made a lot about living in a cave and, you know, roughing it out to avoid the U.S. forces. Suddenly, he's been caught in a million- dollar mansion. Does it suggest to you that he got a bit soft?
LISTER: No, I don't know about that. I think -- one thing I do wonder about, though, is whether he had one kidney and he needed dialysis treatment, whether he had to come somewhere really sophisticated to get regular medical treatment. That is quite possible. After all, he was what, 56, 57 years old.
VAUSE: I thought he was 54.
LISTER: And so, that's conceivable. We don't know really what was inside that mansion apart from the fact that it was very well-guarded, an awful lot of walls, security even on the third floor, there was a seven-foot-high terrace balcony sort of walls to stop anybody, any prying eyes.
So, we don't know whether he was getting soft. But clearly, he thought he was safe in this place, because he's been there some time.
VAUSE: Since October, right?
LISTER: -- a couple of weeks ago.
CHURCH: What does it do for his reputation because, you know, this tough -- the image of this tough leader of al Qaeda living out this hard life, but in actual fact as you say, you know, living in this mansion and the perception of having gone soft, whether he had or whether he hadn't. What's the impact?
LISTER: I don't think we can tell what the impact is going to be, but the devotees of Osama bin Laden will be no less devoted now that he's dead.
VAUSE: Especially now that he's a martyr. He got shot in the head.
LISTER: He's now a martyr, he's died for the cause.
LIKE: Like so many other comrades have. And a lot of them have sworn a personal oath not own to him, not just to the organization.
If you go through all of the Guantanamo documents, it's amazing how many of those who were held at Guantanamo had sworn a personal oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, the man, and were awed by being in his presence, even if it was just for a couple of hours.
So, he had a huge impact on the followers. What it will be like now he's gone, it's difficult to tell, because al Qaeda was already much more dispersed organization, with franchises, if you like, popping up in Somalia, in the Maghreb, in Iraq, all over the place. It wasn't so it was a centralized organization anymore.
VAUSE: And the question I asked Peter Bergen this, we didn't really get into it, but I'm curious. If there is anybody, a particular name which comes to mind who could succeed bin Laden, who could have the same charisma and still the same loyalty and convince people to strap on explosives and blow themselves up.
LISTER: There's someone who is doing that on a regular basis, and he's name is Anwar al-Awlaki and he lives in Yemen.
VAUSE: In Yemen. OK. So, he's likely to become the overall leader?
LISTER: I'm not sure there will be an overall after Osama bin Laden's gone. But that something that will literally tease itself out over the next few months. But in terms of the inspiration figures that are in al Qaeda today
VAUSE: There's a few.
LISTER: Zawahiri is not one of them. He's number two. He's a very gray sort of character by comparison.
But Anwar al-Awlaki is of a different generation. He knows how to use the Internet. He knows after all how to produce this magazine they do called "Inspire" every couple of months, that comes from al Qaeda in Yemen, that is very glossily produced in English. He knows how to get the message through -- after all, he is U.S. educated -- to an English-speaking jihadist community.
And, of course, given the situation in Yemen at the moment, it's quite possible that they will find that a safer haven than parts of Pakistan or Afghanistan in years to come.
CHURCH: And just very quickly, though, this news that we just received -- I mean, it's not confirmed yet, but word of the possibility that Osama bin Laden's body was buried at sea. What is the likely impact of that?
LISTER: I think that's very difficult to tell. Amongst some of the bin Laden supporters that we'll see there, they could not provide evidence that he was dead and therefore, they've done this. But he's not really dead. And he's still somewhere up in the mountains and he's still fighting the cause. That may be part of it.
But others will accept that he's gone and, in fact, we may get a message from Zawahiri the next few days confirming that, but also confirming the jihad goes on still. What will be interesting, most interesting to see now is the relationship between the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda.
VAUSE: Al Qaeda's best friend.
LISTER: Al Qaeda's best friend and how that then affects the entire peace process for the region. It's too early to know.
VAUSE: And the bad news is, we still have to take our shoes off at airports and our belt. And that still will go on.
CHURCH: It could be worse.
LISTER: Which just goes to show that he was really more an icon, inspirational figure than an operational one.
LISTER: Al Qaeda has gone way beyond just being Osama bin Laden.
VAUSE: It's been great talking with you. We -- we have the first statement coming in from the Pakistan government. They released this statement saying in part, "Osama bin Laden's death illustrates the resolve of the international community, including Pakistan, to fight and eliminate terrorism. It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world. Al Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. Scores of al Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks have resulted in deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women and children."
We'll take a short break here right now. Our coverage though of the death of Osama bin Laden will continue.
CHURCH: It will.
Right now, here are some live pictures from Ground Zero in New York where Americans are gathering in celebration of the news that they heard just hours ago, over five hours ago now, that Osama bin Laden is now dead.