Islamabad/Washington, May 2: World's most wanted terror face Osama bin Laden was shot dead today in a pre-dawn helicopter-borne secret operation in a house just yards from Pakistan's Military Academy in Abbottabad town, raising questions whether spy agency ISI knew his whereabouts.
Four US helicopters carrying special forces personnel swooped down on a million dollar compound near an upscale town, 120 kms north of Pakistani capital Islamabad, and shot dead the 54-year-old al-Qaeda chief in a swift operation which lasted only 40 minutes.
The operation climaxed an almost 10-year long massive worldwide manhunt for the man, who US believes is the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The dreaded terror threat was found living in a fortress-like two-storey house in Abbottabad, almost next door to Pakistan's Kakul Military Academy, which is home to army's three regiments and far away from remote mountain caves where most intelligence estimates put him in recent years.
"The compound was custom-built to hide someone of significance," US officials said after the raid, as army commandos stormed the bastion shooting down bin Laden in the head and face.
His death was reported to be instantaneous as he got into a firefight with heavily-armed commandos. Their helicopters were fired upon by bin Laden's ultra loyal Arab bodyguards.
The news of the slaying of the world's most prominent terror mastermind was broken to the world by US President Barack Obama, who made the announcement live from White House.
"Bin Laden, 54, is dead and his body is in US custody," President Obama said at half past 11 midnight US time after initial story had been broken by news channels. Though it was dark, crowds massed outside White House chanted 'USA, USA'.
Besides the al-Qaeda chief, who carried a bounty of USD 25 million, two couriers, one of whom was his son and the other a woman, reportedly used as a human shields, were killed in the operation, US officials said, adding it was through these couriers that bin Laden had been traced.
The US special forces flew away bin Laden's Arab bodyguards while women and children present in the compound were not harmed, officials said.
Hours after they had shot him down, US officials said bin Laden was buried at sea, apparently over fears that his land burial may become a site to attract his followers. The officials, however, did not specify the place or the sea where the al-Qaeda chief's burial was carried out.
The presence of bin Laden in Pakistan, which Pakistani officials have always denied, goes to the heart of the lack of trust the US has felt over the last 10 years with its key ally, the Pakistani military and its powerful spy agency ISI. The US did not notify its ally Pakistan about the operation, citing maintaining complete secrecy as the reason.
For four hours after Obama announced that bin Laden was dead, Pakistan's government and the military remained silent before issuing a statement that the operation was "US intelligence driven raid."
The revelation that bin Laden was living in style in a mansion, US media said, would put Pakistani officials under pressure to explain how he could have been right under their nose.
US officials, who did not want to be named, said the discovery that bin Laden was holed up in an army town in Pakistan raised pointed questions about how he managed to evade capture and whether Pakistan's military intelligence agency ISI knew about his whereabouts and sheltered him.
Giving a graphic account of the operation, US officials said some 10 years after the abortive US bid to nab him in the caves of Tora Bora, a small group of American forces in helicopters took just 40 minutes to land in a well-guarded mansion in a secure neighbourhood.
Disgorging from choppers, the commandos shot bin Laden in his head after some fire exchange, officials said.
Noting that the operation itself was a culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work, a senior administration official said officers from the CIA, National Security Council and other intelligence wings of the government worked very hard to get every possible information about the most wanted fugitive of the world.
Two US helicopters swept into the compound at 1:30 am and 2 am and 20 to 25 Navy Seals under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command stormed the compound in cooperation with the CIA and engaged bin Laden and his men in a firefight, US officials said.
Bin Laden fired his weapon during the fight, they said. The Americans took bin Laden's body into custody after the firefight and confirmed his identity.
One of the US helicopters was damaged during the operation and the troops decided to destroy it themselves with explosives. Pakistani officials claimed that the American helicopters took off from the Ghazi Air Base in northwest Pakistan where the US army was based to help out in the aftermath of the floods in 2010.
The house in which bin Laden was living was located amidst agricultural fields and had seven-foot walls topped with electrified wire, Pakistani TV news channels reported.
The US had reportedly been monitoring the compound for months after receiving a tip in August last year that bin Laden might be sheltering there.
The house had no phone or televisions and the residents burned their garbage. The house had high windows and few access points and US officials concluded it had been built to hide someone. Media reports said the house was occupied by some men from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
"Justice has been done," Obama said in his television address, announcing the slaying of the terror leader.
"A small team of Americans carried out the operation... After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," President Obama said.
Online publication Stratfor intelligence said American intelligence were wondering how long Pakistan was aware that bin Laden was in Abbottabad and whether the US withheld the information from Pakistan until the hit was executed, fearing it would be compromised.
Pakistan and US intelligence cooperation has nosedived earlier this year after a CIA contractor was detained for killing two Pakistani men. Only two weeks ago, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Pakistan and accused the ISI of having ties with terrorists.
Following the killing of bin Laden, the United States put out a worldwide alert asking its embassies and organisations to be on alert for possible reprisals from al-Qaeda operatives and sympathisers.
Simultaneously, the global police agency Interpol also called for increased security measures, warning that the death of bin Laden could provoke reprisal attacks around the world.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble urged "extra vigilance" from "law enforcement authorities to a heightened terror risk from Al-Qaeda affiliated or Al-Qaeda inspired terrorists as a result of Bin Laden's death."
These warnings come in the wake of threats by Al-Qaeda terrorists to unleash a "nuclear hellstorm" on the West if their leader bin Laden is nabbed or killed.
A senior al-Qaeda commander had claimed that the terror group has stashed away a nuclear bomb in Europe which will be detonated if bin Laden is ever caught or assassinated, according to whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
Leaders worldwide described the killing as a "dramatic success" in the war against terror.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Osama bin Laden had "paid for his actions". He argued that the strike in Pakistan proves the real fight against terrorists is outside his country's border.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said it would "bring great relief to people across the world".
"It is a great success that he has been found and will no longer be able to pursue his campaign of global terror," Cameron said in a statement. Russia hailed the death of bin Laden as a great success.
"The Kremlin welcomes the serious success the United States achieved in the war against international terrorism," President Dimitry Medvedev's press service said in a statement today.
"The scourge of terrorism has suffered a historic defeat but it's not the end of Al-Qaeda," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement.
AP adds: Two Obama administration officials said, DNA evidence has proven that Osama bin Laden is dead, with 99.9 percent confidence.
The officials did not immediately say where or how the testing was done but the test explains why President Barack Obama was confident to announce the death to the world Sunday night.