Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, is dead, US president Barack Obama announced today.
The man who was the inspiration for countless acts of terror from the September 11 outrage to the July 7 London bombings was killed in a US operation in Pakistan.
He was holed up not in the mountains of Afghanistan but in a two-storey house a stone’s throw from a Pakistani army base in Abbottabad, about 50 miles from the capital Islamabad.
President Obama said: “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability.
“No Americans were harmed.
“They took care to avoid civilian causalities.
“After a firefight they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
David Cameron welcomed the development, saying it would “bring great relief to people across the world”.
He said: “It is a great success that he has been found and will no longer be able to pursue his campaign of global terror.”
Jubilant crowds flocked to the White House and to Ground Zero in New York where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre stood until they were destroyed by two hijacked jets on September 11, 2001.
Relatives of al Qaida victims welcomed the news.
Nigel Thompson, who worked as a stockbroker with Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Centre, died at the age of 33.
His father Norman, from Sheffield, said: “I’m pleased, definitely. It doesn’t bring our son back - we’ve lost him. People talk of closure. There’s no such thing as closure because we have it every day. It’s one of those difficult things.
“It would bring justice, definitely, but certainly no closure. It’s an every day trial for us.”
Amid the general relief there were warnings of a possible backlash from bin Laden’s supporters.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK should be “even more vigilant” and he ordered UK embassies around the world to review their security.
John Gearson, Reader in Terrorism Studies and Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, said: “There will be concerns that there could be some sort of retaliation, that al Qaida may well want to demonstrate that they are still strong and still in the game.”
Mr Obama said he was first briefed on the possibility that bin Laden had been tracked down last August.
“It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground,” he said.
“I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan.
“And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorised an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.”
US officials said the CIA tracked bin Laden to his location, then elite troops from Navy Seal Team Six, a top military counter-terrorism unit, flew to the hideout in four helicopters.
Bin Laden was shot in the head in an ensuing firefight.
Three adult males were also killed in the raid, including one of bin Laden’s sons, according to reports.
Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea having been handled according to Islamic practice and tradition, US officials said.
US personnel identified him by facial recognition. Officials declined to say whether DNA analysis had also been used.
In his televised statement from the White House, Mr Obama recalled the images from the 2001 terror attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania which were “seared into our national memory”.
He paid tribute to the “tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals” who have hunted down al Qaida operatives, disrupted terrorist attacks, removed the Taliban government which harboured bin Laden in Afghanistan and strengthened America’s defences at home.
The effort had taken place in co-operation with “friends and allies” around the world, he said.
Mr Obama cautioned that bin Laden’s death did not mark the end of the effort to defeat international terrorism, warning: “There’s no doubt that al Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must - and we will - remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
He stressed that the US “is not - and never will be - at war with Islam” and derided bin Laden’s claim to represent Muslims.
“Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims,” said the President.
“Indeed, al Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
He added: “The American people did not choose this fight,” he said. “It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war.
“These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.”
But he said the US would “never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed”.
Mr Obama spoke by phone to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, who he said agreed that this was a “good and historic day for both of our nations”.
Counter-terrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead the US to bin Laden, and it was “essential” that Islamabad continues to work with America in the fight against al Qaida, said Mr Obama.
But the news that bin Laden was killed in an army town in Pakistan will raise questions about how he managed to evade capture and whether Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership knew of his whereabouts and sheltered him.
Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan’s security establishment of protecting bin Laden and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, though Islamabad has always denied this.