Bin Laden had long been said to be in the mountainous region along the Afghanistan, Pakistan border, hiding in a cave as the U.S. sought to kill him with drone strikes from above. Instead, he was in a house with many peculiar features that brought it to the attention of U.S. authorities.
After locating the Al Qaeda courier in 2009 and then tracking him to the structure in 2010, the CIA noted that the house had high exterior walls topped with barbed wire, high windows and few points of access. Residents burned their trash instead of putting it out. Built in 2005, the compound also had a seven-foot-high wall on a third-floor terrace. U.S. officials wondered if the extra wall was meant to allow a tall man -- Bin Laden's height was estimated at between 6'4" and 6'6" -- to go outside without being seen.
The CIA began to believe that a high-value target was in the house. A CIA "red team" assigned to assess the house decided that it could well be sheltering Bin Laden, even though he'd never been seen in the compound.
The house looked like it was "custom-built to hide someone of significance," said an official. But the Americans did not share their information about who might be inside the compound with the Pakistanis, said Pentagon officials.
The CIA was responsible for "finding" and "fixing" the target, said a U.S. official, and the military "finished" the job.
According to U.S. officials, the Navy's SEALS Team Six practiced the assault in a replica of the compound built inside the United States.
Late Sunday night local time, two U.S. helicopters from Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and carrying Team Six SEALs flew in low from Afghanistan and swept into the compound. As CIA director Leon Panetta listened in, the Navy SEALs stormed the compound and engaged Bin Laden and his men in a firefight, killing Bin Laden and all those with him.
Two Bin Laden couriers were killed, as was Osama Bin Laden's son Khalid and a woman. U.S. officials said Bin Laden and the other men used the three women in the compound as human shields, and the woman who died was shielding Bin Laden. The other two women were injured. Children were present in the compound but were not harmed. U.S. officials said that Bin Laden himself fired his weapon during the fight, and that he was asked to surrender but did not. He was shot in the head and then shot again to make sure he was dead.
The raid began on the smaller of two buildings in the compound, where the couriers were believed to live. The raid then moved to the larger three-story building.
One of the U.S. Blackhawk helicopters was damaged but not destroyed during the operation, and U.S. forces elected to destroy it themselves with explosives.
The Americans took Bin Laden's body into custody after the firefight, taking it back to Afghanistan by helicopter, and confirmed his identity. His DNA matched DNA taken from mulitple relatives of Bin Laden with almost 100 percent certainty.
A U.S. official said Bin Laden was later buried at sea in accordance with Islamic practice at 2 a.m. Washington time. Bin Laden's body was taken to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, a U.S. aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea, according to officials. His body was washed and wrapped in the prescribed way. A military officer read religious remarks that were translated by a native Arabic speaker before Bin Laden's remains were sent into the deep.
The original plan had called for the SEALs to rappel down into the compound, but because one of the choppers had a problem it had to do a soft crash landing.
According to Pakistani officials, the operation was a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation, but U.S. officials said only U.S. personnel were involved in the raid.
U.S. officials say that Pakistani fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the choppers, but didn't reach them. The U.S. team was back inside Afghanistan before 6 p.m Washington time.
Abbottabad is a city of 90,000 in the Orash Valley, north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, and east of Peshawar. It is 90 miles by road from Islamabad and 40 miles by air.
Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.