This Day in World History
May 2, 2011
Osama bin Laden killed
In the middle of the night, 2 May 2011, a brief message was radioed from Pakistan to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia: “EKIA.” “EKIA” is military shorthand for “enemy killed in action.” The enemy was Osama bin Laden. After a manhunt of nearly 10 years, the United States had found and killed the al Qaeda leader who had ordered the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Bin Laden’s death came in a raid by about two dozen Navy SEALs on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The previous year, intelligence officials had tracked a known bin Laden courier to the compound. The complex — with high walls and tight security measures — became the focus of months of intense study as a possible hideaway for the elusive al Qaeda leader. Meanwhile, two versions of it were built so the SEALs could train for a possible raid.
Despite the scrutiny, officials could not be certain that Osama used the compound or that — even if he did — he would be there on May 2. Gambling, President Barack Obama ordered the SEALs to strike.
The raid was not perfect. A helicopter flown to the compound was damaged in a hard landing. The noise of the crash ruined the element of surprise and forced the SEALs to blast their way through several walls to enter the home inside the compound. There, they found bin Laden and quickly shot him dead.
Bin Laden was not the only casualty. Two guards, a woman, and one of his sons were also killed, and two of his wives were wounded. They and about ten others were left tied up in a room. Less than an hour after entering the compound, the SEALs left with bin Laden’s body — and a treasure of computer hard drives and other intelligence data. They destroyed the downed helicopter before leaving.
Later that night, President Barack Obama addressed the nation on television to deliver the news. Paying tribute to the SEALs who carried out the operation and recalling bin Laden’s role in the 9/11 attacks, the president said, “Justice has been done.”