Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead, US President Barack Obama has confirmed. Western leaders have rejoiced at the news but warned of the risk of possible Islamist retaliation strikes.
Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation in Pakistan
Western leaders expressed relief and urged continued vigilance on Monday following news that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by US special forces in Pakistan.
In a televised announcement, President Barack Obama said bin Laden was fatally wounded in an operation involving a small team of US operatives "with extraordinary courage and capability."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed bin Laden's death as "good news," but warned that the threat of terrorism had not been eliminated.
"With the commando operation against Osama bin Laden and his killing, US forces succeeded in making a decisive strike against al Qaeda," a statement released by the chancellor's spokesman said.
The European Union said bin Laden's death was a "major achievement" in efforts to eradicate terrorism. "His death makes the world a safer place and shows that such crimes do not remain unpunished," a joint statement from European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
President Barack Obama made the announcement in a televised statement
Those comments were echoed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who told reporters that bin Laden's death was a "watershed moment in [the] common global fight against terrorism."
Later on Monday, his words were backed in a statement agreed by a meeting of the UN Security Council. The statement highlighted the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US and welcomed the news that bin Laden "will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism."
"The security council recognizes this critical development and other accomplishments made in the fight against terrorism and urges all states to remain vigilant and intensify their efforts in the fight against terrorism," the statement read.
'A resounding triumph'
Bin Laden's killing was also welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"This is a resounding triumph for justice, freedom and the values shared by all democratic nations fighting shoulder to shoulder in determination against terrorism," Netanyahu said in a statement.
Moscow, meanwhile, pledged increased cooperation with Washington in the fight against terror. "Only a joint and united fight against global terrorism can achieve substantial results," a statement released by President Dimitry Medvedev's press office said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Taliban militants to stop fighting following the death of bin Laden. "The Taliban must learn a lesson from this," Karzai said at a news conference.
Former President George W. Bush, who was in office at the time of the attacks on the US, said bin Laden's death represented a "momentous achievement."
Demise of a 'murderer'
Bin Laden had been hiding in a compound near Islamabad
In his televised address, President Obama described bin Laden as "a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of men, women and children."
He credited Pakistani security officials with helping "lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding," in Abottabad, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Islamabad.
Obama also thanked his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, for his government's cooperation.
According to reports, bin Laden was promptly buried at sea in a bid to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine for extremists.
Bin Laden’s death is being seen as a major accomplishment for the Obama administration. For more than a decade bin Laden was the leader of al Qaeda, the Islamist terror network behind the September 11 attacks.
Security forces had been hunting him ever since he avoided capture during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Bin Laden was also linked to a string of attacks, including the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
The news of bin Laden's death set off celebrations in the US
After the news of bin Laden's death was announced, crowds began gathering to celebrate outside of the White House and Ground Zero in New York. Thousands of people waved American flags and chanted "USA, USA, USA" outside of the White House. Drivers passing by blew their car horns in celebration. Similar scenes were reported in New York where the 9/11 attacks leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center, killing around 3,000 people.
Threat of revenge attacks
The killing of bin Laden also raised concerns about possible retaliation by al Qaeda. The US State Department issued a travel alert for Americans worldwide.
Members of militant Islamist forums vowed to avenge the killing. A poster on the Arabic-language Ansar forum said: "God's revenge on you, you Roman dog, God's revenge on you crusaders...this is a tragedy brothers, a tragedy."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned that Germany would continue to be "vigilant."
"We can't rule out the possibility of counter attacks," he said.
Interpol also warned of a heightened terror risk due to the killing of bin Laden. In a statement posted on its website, the international police organization called for "extra vigilence by Interpol member countries' law enforcement authorities."
Author: Darren Mara, Chuck Penfold (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel