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‘We got him’: bin Laden shot twice

Simon Mann

May 3, 2011 – 3:18PM

The first sign that the top-secret US mission to get Osama bin Laden had paid off came in the form of a coded message sent back to Washington amid a wild confrontation at the Pakistani compound where the al-Qaeda leader was holed up – “Geronimo-EKIA”, it read.

Geronimo was the code name for the operation spearheaded by more than 20 Navy SEALs who arrived on Sunday aboard Blackhawk helicopters. The attached letters stood for: “enemy killed in action”.

US President Barack Obama listens during one of a series of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1.
US President Barack Obama listens during one of a series of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1. Photo: Reuters

 

Even then, the tight group of anxious administration officials who tuned in to the unfolding drama from the White House Situation Room were awaiting the safe exit of their attack specialists before celebrating.

They also awaited further proof that the militant leader who had evaded capture for 15 years – and an intensified international manhunt following the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 – was in fact dead.

President Barack Obama gave orders to mount the mission on Friday and, after apparently cutting a round of golf short on Sunday, he joined national security advisers at the White House to track the mission in real time.

Crowds at the World Trade Centre.  

Osama bin Laden killed

Crowds at the World Trade Centre.

  • Crowds at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Spontaneous crowds gather at the World Trade Centre.
  • Crowds gather outside the World Trade Centre at around 2-3am in Manhattan.
  • Crowds gather in Manhattan at Ground Zero - the site where the Twin Towers were destroyed in a terrorist attack on 9/11.
  • Crowds celebrate the news outside the White House.
  • People cheer and wave US flags outside the White House.
  • A flash mob gathers at the White House gates.
  • Crowds celebrate bin Laden's death outside the White House in Washington.
  • US Marines watch President Barack Obama announce the death of Osama bin Laden.
  • South Koreans watch a TV broadcasting a report of Osama bin Laden's death.
  • A Canadian soldier based in Afghanistan reacts to the news.
  • Barack Obama announces the death of Osama bin Laden.
  • Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a 1998 file photo in Afghanistan.
  • The attack on the World Trade Center in new York, masterminded by Osama bin laden.  September 11, 2001
  • This undated file photo shows al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan.
  • This image provided in 2007 by IntelCenter shows a video frame broadcast by al-Qaeda featuring Osama Bin Laden.
  • Osama bin Laden talks at a news conference in Afghanistan in this 1998 file photo.
  • A TV grab taken 7 September 2006 shows al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at an undisclosed time and place.
  • This undated photo taken in an unknown location shows  Osama Bin Laden (centre), Ayman Al-Zawahiri (left), a physician and the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and Muhammad Atef.
  • Pictures of Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden on Interpol's wanted list on September 15, 2001.
  • A television grab of footage released on April 15, 2002, shows Osama bin Laden (right), the chief suspect in September 11's attacks on the United States.  The other man is unidentified.
  • A man at a Madrid supermarket walks past TV sets on December 13, 2001, with the Spanish TVE 9.00 p.m.   news broadcast showing the recently released video of Osama bin Laden.
  • Osama bin Laden, second from left, with top lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri, second from right, and Egyptian Islamic militant Mohammed Atef, right, at an undisclosed location in a television grab broadcast on October 7, 2001.
  • Jake Smith looks through a rifle at Tactical Edge, a gun shop and gun range at targets of Osama bin Laden in Riviera Beach, Florida.
  • Saudi-born guerrilla leader Osama bin Laden aims a weapon at an unnamed location on an undated video obtained by Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai al-Aam on June 20, 2001.
  • New York police near a wanted poster printed by on a full page of a New York newspaper for Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden in the financial district of New York, on September 18, 2001.

“It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled here yesterday,” the President’s anti-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, said.

“The minutes passed like days, and the President was very concerned about the security of our personnel.

“That was what was on his mind throughout, and we wanted to make sure that we were able to get through this and accomplish the mission.

“It was clearly very tense, a lot of people holding their breath and there was a fair degree of silence as it progressed as we would get the updates.”

The SEALs reported that the dead man’s height matched that of bin Laden, who stood at 193 centimetres, and sent photographs back to CIA headquarters where face recognition technology produced a match. As the signs grew increasingly sure, Mr Obama is said to have summed up the mood by uttering: “We got him.

“When we finally were informed that those individuals who were able to go in that compound and found an individual that they believed was bin Laden, there was a tremendous sigh of relief.”

Bin Laden had been shot twice, according to reports, once in the head and once in the chest.

National security officials told Reuters that US troops expected bin Laden to put up a fight and the mission, involving about 15 special forces operatives, was a “kill operation”.

“If he had waved a white flag of surrender, he would have been taken alive.”

Three other men – believed to be one of bin Laden’s sons and two of his couriers – were killed in the operation, while a woman was killed when she was used as a human shield.

The New York Times reported bin Laden’s body was washed, placed in a white sheet and a military officer read religious rites translated into Arabic.

Inside a weighted bag, the body was placed on a board and “eased into the sea”, an official said.

Mr Obama today praised the anonymous commandos who finally caught up with bin Laden, adding that the US was fortunate “to have Americans who dedicate their lives” to protecting the nation.

“We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are always there on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed,” Mr Obama continued during a White House ceremony honouring Korean War veterans awarded the Medal of Honour.

“As commander-in-chief, I could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform. That is true now in today’s wars, and it has been true in all of our wars and it is why we are here today.”

Mr Brennan admitted that some on the President’s security team had doubts that the mission should have proceeded as they judged it too risky. But the SEALs’ preparation was meticulous: they trained on replicas of bin Laden’s compound that had been built in the US.

Those taking part were identified as SEAL Team Six of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.

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As the signs grew increasingly sure, Barack Obama is said to have summed up the mood by uttering: We got him.

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