9/11 TEN YEARS ON: The hunt for Osama

Before night fell on September 11, 2001, the US had already identified Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida organisation as the key suspects in the 9/11 attacks.

Before turning in, president George Bush, had entered in his journal 'we think it's Osama bin Laden' and from that moment the US set about the task of tracking him down, firstly by routing his hosts in Afghanistan and then trying to find his lair.

Soon after, Bush issued his 'wanted, dead or alive,' ultimatum and also levelled a warning at anyone who harboured the al Qaida leader.

Yet it took the best part of a decade to finish the job, with the al Qaida leader evading capture or execution and continuing to direct his organisation through a complex network of commanders and cells and also taunting the west with video messages.

While the Taliban collapsed as the government of Afghanistan and then re-grouped as a guerrilla organisation gaining strongholds across the country, Osama bin Laden remained at large.

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For his part, bin Laden initially denied any responsibility for the attacks, though finally accepted his organisation's role in 2004.

As the search for him continued, attacks led, inspired or influenced by al Qaida occurred at various points: the Bali bombings of 2002, Madrid in 2004, London 2005, and numerous other attacks across Iraq and Afghanistan claiming thousands of innocent lives.

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Yet when the end came for bin Laden, in a compound in northern Pakistan close to a major military base, it was swift.

The US operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden was months in the planning but took just minutes to complete.

Once it was suspected bin Laden was in the high-walled enclosure in the garrison town of Abbottabad, 35 miles north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, US Navy Seal Team 6 began practising storming the compound.

President Barack Obama gave the go ahead for the raid on April 29 and it was carried out on May 1.

With Pakistan intelligence kept in the dark about the mission for fear of leaks and tip-offs, a team of US special forces flew into Pakistan in stealth helicopters and stormed the high-walled enclosure where bin Laden was living.

Once inside the compound, the three Seals from the 23-strong team detailed to find bin Laden found him at the end of a corridor. The terrorist leader ducked inside a room where the Seals found two women in front of bin Laden, screaming and trying to protect him.

One of the soldiers pushed the women aside, as another Seal fired at bin Laden, hitting him in the head and chest and killing him instantly.

Some 40 minutes later, they left with his body as president Barack Obama and his security team watched the operation in real time from the White House.

As the death of bin Laden was relayed back to the Washington, president Obama mouthed: 'we got him.'

After the team returned to Afghanistan, bin Laden's body was flown to the USS Carl Vinson where the body was prepared for burial and dropped overboard in an unknown location to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine.

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