The size, location, and security posture of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s safehouse led U.S. intelligence to conclude a high-value terrorist was holed up there, senior national security officials revealed last night during a late-night conference call with reporters.
The size, location, and security posture of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s safe house led U.S. intelligence to conclude a high-value terrorist was holed up there, senior national security officials revealed last night during a late-night conference call with reporters.
The intelligence information was enough for President Barack Obama to authorize a surgical strike led by a small team of U.S. forces using helicopters. In the firefight that ensued between U.S. forces and militants at the compound Sunday, bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader responsible for the September 11th attacks and the world’s most wanted man, was killed. National security officials, who did not want to be named, told reporters that bin Laden offered resistance during the firefight.
The officials revealed that the intelligence breakthrough occurred last August, when one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers unknowingly led the United States to the compound, which U.S. intelligence put under surveillance.
The compound, located 35 miles north of Islamabad in the relatively wealthy suburb of Abbottabad favored by retired Pakistani military officers, was eight times larger than other residences in the area. The secluded three-story compound was surrounded by walls 12-to-18 foot high walls, which were topped with barbed wire. The well-protected compound also featured two security gates.
Other suspicious details about the house and the activity surrounding it piqued the U.S. intelligence community’s interest, according to a senior national security official. Despite being valued at approximately $1 million, the house had no Internet or telephone connections. U.S. intelligence also concluded that the courier and his brother tracked to the house also had no way to financially support such a compound. Another important detail was the presence of a family living in the compound that matched bin Laden’s. And unlike the other residences in the area, men burned the compound's trash rather than taking it to the street like their neighbors.
From this information, U.S. intelligence concluded that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist and determined with high probability that the terrorist was indeed the al Qaeda leader the United States had been hunting for nearly a decade.
During the firefight, three other adult males were killed besides bin Laden: the courier, his brother, and one of bin Laden’s adult sons. National security officials also said that one woman was killed when she was used as a human shield by one of the militants. During the attack, one helicopter failed due to mechanical difficulties and had to be destroyed. The strike team then boarded another aircraft after securing Bin Laden’s body. The officials said the attack was conducted in a manner to minimize collateral damage.
Responding to a question about bin Laden’s remains, a senior national security official said his body will be handled in accordance with Islamic customs, which he said is a matter the United States takes very seriously.
The compound which harbored bin Laden was in existence for five years and is believed to have been built for that express purpose, according to a national security official. The official said U.S. intelligence doesn’t know yet how long Bin Laden had been living in the compound before the assault occurred yesterday.
♦ Thumbnail by Daquella manera/Flickr
Correction: The original article inaccurately said the compound's trash was taken outside of the gates. Rather it was burned. The article has been corrected.