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, built in 2005, had high exterior walls topped with barbed wire, high windows and few points of access. Residents burned their trash instead of putting it out. U.S. officials wondered if the extra seven-foot-high wall on a third-floor terrace was built to shield a man as tall as bin Laden, whose height was estimated at between 6'4" and 6'6".
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 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 SEAL 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. Two women were injured. Children were present in the compound but were not harmed. U.S. officials said that bin Laden 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. The couriers were killed downstairs, while bin Laden was upstairs.
After the raid, blood covered the floor of one room to the right inside the sprawling larger structure. In another room to the left that held a small kitchenette, broken computers could be seen, minus their hard drives. The SEALs also recovered papers, CDs, laptops, which were taken away for analysis.
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. At least a dozen individuals who were present in the compound were left flex cuffed by the side of the road by the SEALs when they departed, according to a senior administration official.
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 multiple bin Laden relatives with almost 100 percent certainty, and his body was found to be more than 6'4". He was also identified by two women at the compound after he was killed, and via facial recognition analysis from photos sent back to CIA headquarters.
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.
Remarkably, bin Laden was hiding almost under the nose of the Pakistani military, which has a major garrison in Abbottabad and the Pakistani version of West Point. A senior U.S. official says the U.S. government believes that bin Laden may have been living in the house ever since it was built in 2005.
U.S. officials say Pakistan was not informed in advance of the military operation inside their borders. The U.S. team was back inside Afghanistan before 6 p.m. Washington time.
Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.