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WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden, the glowering mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that murdered thousands of Americans, was killed in an operation led by the United States, President Barack Obama said Sunday.
"Justice has been done," said the president in a dramatic late-night announcement at the White House.
A small team of Americans killed bin Laden in a firefight Sunday at a compound in Pakistan, the president said, and took custody of his remains. Americaj officials said they were being handled in accordance with Islamic tradition.
A jubilant crowd gathered outside the White House as word spread of bin Laden's death after a global manhunt that lasted nearly a decade.
Former President George W. Bush, who was in office on the day of the attacks, issued a written statement hailing bin Laden's death as a momentous achievement. "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done," he said.
Obama said he ordered the operation after receiving undisclosed intelligence information. Senior administration officials said the terrorist mastermind was found inside a custom-built compound with two security gates. They said it appeared to hvae been constructed to harbor one high-value target and that for undisclosed reasons, officials became clear the hideout was bin Laden's.
Officials also said they believe the death puts al-Qaida on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse, but there was no word on the whereabouts of bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
The stunning end to the world's most widely-watched manhunt came just months before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, orchestrated by bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, that killed more than 3,000 people.