tonight on "nightline" -- how they got him. a team of elite navy s.e.a.l.s i storms a compound in pakistan and kills al qaeda leader osama bin laden. we've got the incredible inside story of that raid. from exclusive footage inside his compound to the white-knuckle moments in the white house situation room, until that message came, we got him. catharsis. nearly ten years after the 9/11 attack shattered families and shook a nation, the mastermind behind the plot is killed. bringing an outpouring of emotion, celebration, and relief. we're live from ground zero as new york rejoices. and what now? so, does bin laden's death make the u.s. safer? is this the end of al qaeda? and can we finally leave afghanistan?
"target bin laden." a special hour-long edition of "nightline" starts right now. good evening. i'm terry moran. we're here tonight at ground zero in new york city. hallowed ground. which is coming back to life. behind me, you can see where construction proceeds on reflecting pools there which will honor the memory of the nearly 3,000 victims who died here almost ten years ago. the towers, about 68 stories tall, replacing the ones brought down in the 9/11 attacks. my co-anchor cynthia mcfadden is here at ground zero as well. our colleague bill weir is in our studios uptown for this special edition of "nightline." last night, as we all discovered, president obama brought the country the news it's been waiting for for ten
years, osama bin laden, the maniacal mass murderer, religious fa tat fanatic responsible for the tragedies that took place here, at the pentagon and on flight 93, he is dead. killed by american navy s.e.a.l.s who staged a daring raid on a mansion where he was living in pakistan. tonight, the president spoke again. this time, to a bipartisan crowd in washington. a city that has lately seemed poisoned by partisan venom. he hailed a feeling of national unity that is surprisingly familiar. >> i think we experienced the same sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. we're reminded again that there is a pride in what this nation stands for. and what we can achieve. that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics. >> one of the most captivating, most fascinating threads of this
story is how american spies tracked their man to that compound. how they confirmed as best they could that it was really him. and how the decision was made to attack not with an air strike as initially proposed but with a brazen commando mission in which navy s.e.a.l.s would descend from the sky and bodily remove the target, dead or alive. in the dead dark of an almost moonless pakistani night, the attack came down. it lasted just 40 minutes. but local eyewitnesses will never forget. >> i heard heavy gunfire at around 1:00 a.m. in the morning last night. and it was followed by a huge blast. >> by morning's light, the mysterious compound in this pleasant hill town stood silent and aloof. inside, seen in this exclusive video obtained by abc news, the bloody evidence made clear what happened here.
a daring, lethal, brilliant operation. and in a moment that will help to define his presidency at 11:36 p.m. last night, president obama confirmed the historic news. >> the united states has conducted an operation that killed osama bin laden, the leader of al qaeda. >> reporter: the killing of osama bin laden was the culmination of years of hard work by thousands of people. but this operation began last august. that month, u.s. intelligence discovered that this compound in abbottabad, pakistan was owned by a man believed to be bin laden's main courier of his messages to the outside world. it was a solid lead. >> it was discussed with very few people. it has a code name. normal communications channels aren't used. normal meetings are not used. >> reporter: abc news consultant richard clarkee was a senior counterterrorism official under three presidents and a man who battled bin laden for years from inside the white house. >> what they're drawing on is an
analytical lead they'd been looking for, for years, which was the achilles' heel, the couriers. because he was no longer using the phone. because he was no longer using the internet. he had to rely on couriers. find the couriers. >> they had. as they scrutinized this one-acre compound, using satellite and on the ground-observations, more key clues. no telephone or internet connections. the residents burned their own trash rather than have it picked up. >> if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and president musharraf will not act, we will. >> that was candidate obama. being president is a lot harder. and in march of this year, president obama was told about the abbottabad compound. >> you're asking him to risk a lot. he's going to ask every imaginable question. how confident you are, and how do you know that, and what's behind that, and what if that's wrong? he really does 20 questions with people.
>> but there was enough to start planning. obama rejected a plan to bomb the compound in part because it would leave no evidence. so special forces were called in. >> hell, yeah you're afraid. i wouldn't want to go into battle with somebody who wasn't a little bit afraid. the difference is being with a warrior who can control and channel that fear and still get the job done. >> reporter: howard wasden is a former navy s.e.a.l. he was wounded in the blackhawk down battle in mogadishu. serving with s.e.a.l. team 6, the same unit that carried out the bin laden operation. over the past six weeks the s.e.a.l.s built a full-scale replica of the abbottabad compound and carried out two drills on it. >> that's tactics 101. if you don't have time to build a compound, we'll do ways called a string house. just lay out the floors. with strings and pegs. that's if you got to do a quick op. but if you've got plenty of time and it seems like they had months here, then yeah, let's get the thing built as close to replicating the actual target
house as possible and get everybody ready to do the op. >> last friday morning, president obama, with no sighting of bin laden still, with some members of his team urging him to hold off or go with the bombing operation, ordered the s.e.a.l.s in, saying it's a go. >> it's a very lonely place to be. the decision at the end, even though you have all the advisers around you, the decision is yours. and you are making a decision that you know is going to result in people dying. even if it goes well. >> weather held up the operation for one day. the president attended the white house correspondents association dinner. >> people think bin laden is hiding in the hindu kush but did you know every day from 4:00 to 5:00 he hosts a show on c-span? >> then sunday the s.e.a.l.s headed in. >> what's going through your mind and what that's like is one simple thing. you're not thinking about personal glory. you're not thinking about getting home to mama and the
kids. you're thinking about your time on target. your individual jobs on target. getting in. taking care of your business. and getting you and your teammates out alive. >> there were 30 to 40 men in the darkness choppering into the compound. the plan was to rappel from the helicopters, but one of the blackhawks stalled. had to put down outside the walls. >> all plans go out the window the minute the first round is fired anyway. so you just got to pick up what you've got and drive on and try to complete the mission. >> back at the white house, the president and his team were following the operation in real time, audio and video feeds from the compound. their faces say everything. >> it was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time i think in the lives of the people who were assembled here yesterday. the minutes passed like days. >> when you're hearing the blow by blow and you don't fully understand it and you know that there are lives on the line,
it's the most nerve-racking thing you can imagine. >> in abbottabad, the s.e.a.l.s climbed the stairs to the upper floors and confronted a man they were convinced was bin laden. they shouted for him to surrender. he resisted. and so they took him down, one shot just above the left eye. the other to the chest. they took his body, swept the house for evidence, and left. the word went back to the white house. geronimo k.i.a., using the code word for bin laden. later, dna tests, facial recognition techniques and other methods confirmed they had killed osama bin laden. we got him, president obama said. he was buried at sea a few hours later. in accordance with muslim practices. and it was over. american heroes had revenged the worst attack in this country in american history. and brought to an end a decade long pursuit of the most wanted man in the world.
an incredible mission accomplished. many people imagined over the years that osama bin laden was living in rugged secrecy, in the wilds of pakistan's frontiers. in fact, bin laden was living with his family members behind the tall privacy walls of a huge compound in abbottabad, pakistan. nick schifrin is there. nick? >> reporter: terry, i think for years we've been talking about which cave bin laden was hiding in. as one u.s. official has put it today, bin laden was hiding in plain sight. you can see this town where he was hiding. this is a middle class neighborhood. this is the road that leads to his compound. people on this road live relatively well. this is a middle class neighborhood. it's also a tourist neighborhood. where people from all over pakistan would come to enjoy the beauty here. most importantly perhaps, this is a military neighborhood. a few thousand feet from me is the bin laden compound. and about 500 or 600 feet away from that is a pakistani army
base. actually something that is basically pakistan's west point. a pakistan military academy. there's a lot of questions today about how close bin laden's compound was to that army base. why they didn't know, as they say, why bin laden was living there. >> bin laden's last hometown. what has been the reaction there on the ground to the fact that the united states of america sent in navy s.e.a.l.s to kill their neighbor? >> i think also that goes to the kind of moderation in this town. to the south of here, closer to the afghan border, there were some protests. but here there has not been a lot of protests. there's not a lot of anti-americanism here. there's not a lot of sentiment against the pakistani government. what we've seen in the dozens of people we've talked to is shock. it's surprise. shock that the pakistani military, that base just behind me, didn't know that bin laden was staying and shock that most people, most residents here, didn't know he was here either. terry? >> all right, nick schifrin.
one of the first american reporters on the scene there. thanks very much for that report from abbottabad. just ahead, sons who lost fathers. parents who lost children in the 9/11 attack. how do they feel about osama bin laden's death? we lend an ear. [ male announcer ] redesigned power e-trade pro. it's like hardwiring the market right into my desktop. launch my watchlist -- a popping stock catches my eye. pull up the price chart. see what the analysts say. as i jump back, streaming video news confirms what i thought. pull the trigger -- done. i can even do most of this on my smartphone. really, it's incredible. like nothing i've ever experienced. unleash your investing and trade free for 60 days with e-trade.
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for the atrocities committed in his name ordered by him, planned by him, before, on and after september 11th, 2001, osama bin laden became a uniquely reviled figure in the united states and around the world. for many people, however, the headlines this morning were different. they had a deeper impact than they did for the rest of us. because for this time it was personal. here's my co-anchor cynthia mcfadden. >> i'm down below you here in what was once the shadow of the world trade center. you can see -- and hear -- it's still a very active construction
site virtually 24 hours a day. you know, the death of osama bin laden provoked so many memories for so many of us. for me, it was being at the hospital closest to this site on that day where teams of doctors and nurses were assembled but no patients were coming. almost ten years later, this is hallowed ground. especially for the families of people whose remains were never recovered. we wondered how the death of osama bin laden affected them today. we spent the day listening. last night when the rumor hit that osama bin laden had been killed, there was no other word for it. much of america went wild with joy. from those gathering outside the white house to a stadium full of people at the mets/phillies game, to times square. ♪ god bless america and ground zero. when brothers patrick and james heard the news, they headed to
ground zero. patrick was 18, james 17, when they lost their father on 9/11. >> we were really surprised when we showed up and saw those people. it was really a special moment to see all those american flags, hear the people chanting usa and singing our national anthem, it made the -- you know, the hairs on my neck stand up. i know we were all pretty happy to see all the patriotism back on the streets of new york. >> reporter: james is now a firefighter like his dad. patrick went off to west point and then iraq and afghanistan. we going to see you join the fire department? >> i haven't ruled anything out yet. it's kind of the nice thing about the bagpipes. they can be used for a celebration. they can also be used for mourning. >> reporter: what's the emotion tonight? >> i think the emotion tonight is celebration in a sense. and patriotism. >> the haircut is very
reminiscent of someone else in this family, his father. >> reporter: not everyone went to ground zero today. like every other monday, john, a retired firefighter, hung out with his 16-year-old grandson jimmy after school. it's one he wishes his son joe was here to enjoy. joe was a policeman. on september 11th, he and his brother john, a firefighter, were both killed in the line of duty. ted koppel spoke to their father just a few months later. >> john, i mean, it's almost impossible to imagine. you lost both your sons here. >> i have no children. >> your only two sons. >> i miss them. i miss them a lot. >> it's a loss he says he still feels every day. as he does his best to fill the void left in the lives of his seven grandchildren. >> i want to join the marines. i want to get out and become a police officer in the city like my father. >> reporter: so how did he and his grandfather feel when they
heard the american military had finally killed osama bin laden? >> he got what he deserved. my dad would have been happy. i'm happy. >> i know it's not over. i mean, we just got the lead act are. i just hope we get the rest of them. >> reporter: for jim richards, it's much the same. a battalion chief on 9/11. a 30-year veteran of the new york city fire department. he was at home nearly ten years ago now on 9/11 when the phone rang. >> i knew my son was working. he was right down there. >> reporter: his 29-year-old son jimmy was also a firefighter. >> i asked a couple guys i knew. they said they seen my son go in the north tower. i figured right away he was gone. >> reporter: jimmy was gone. his father worked on the pile 12, sometimes 18 hours a day, looking for bodies. march 25th, six months after the towers fell, he was headed home for the day when a grim call pulled him back. jim's body had been found. >> they draped hip in the american flag, put him on a stretcher.
my three other sons would followed in his footsteps, their hero was the hero before 9/11 and will be a hero forever. >> reporter: we met up with jim richards today at ground zero. >> the man who murdered my son who was responsible for it bragging about it, saying he was proud he did it, finally falsed justice. >> reporter: so is this closure in any sense for you? do you feel that way? >> i think it's a hard road. there's no closure at all. >> reporter: tonight at ground zero, patrick and his brother played again. perhaps no sound evokes those funerals more than the bagpipes. terry, back to you. >> no question, cynthia, thanks for that report. just ahead, we're going to take an inside look at that elite navy s.e.a.l.s unit that executed sunday's mission in pakistan. just who are these guys? ♪
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