WASHINGTON — The Obama administration used DNA testing and other means to confirm that elite American forces in Pakistan had in fact killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, officials said Monday, as the world absorbed the stunning news.
The officials said the DNA testing alone offered a "99.9 percent" certainty that bin Laden was shot dead in a daring U.S. military operation. Detailed photo analysis by the CIA, confirmation by other people at the raid site and matching physical features like bin Laden's height all helped confirmed the identification.
One official said there should be no doubt in anybody's mind that the person killed was bin Laden.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.
Still, it was unclear if the world would ever get visual proof. Bin Laden's body was quickly buried at sea, and administration officials were weighing the merit and appropriateness of releasing a photo of bin Laden, who was shot in the head.
The face of global terrorism was killed in a firefight with American forces. As spontaneous celebrations and expressions of relief gave way to questions about precisely what happened and what comes next, U.S. officials warned that the campaign against terrorism is not nearly over — and that the threat of retaliation was real.
"The fight continues and we will never waver," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday. Her comments had echoes of former President George W. Bush's declaration nearly a decade ago, when al-Qaida attacks against America led to war in Afghanistan and changed the way Americans viewed their own safety.
Turning to deliver a direct message to bin Laden's followers, she vowed: "You cannot wait us out."
President Barack Obama himself delivered the news of bin Laden's killing in a dramatic White House statement late Sunday. "Justice has been done," he said.
The president was expected to address the topic again in a Medal of Honor ceremony shortly before noon EDT.
Officials say CIA interrogators in secret overseas prisons developed the first strands of information that ultimately led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The military operation that ended bin Laden's life took mere minutes, and there were no U.S. casualties.
U.S. Blackhawk helicopters ferried about two dozen troops from Navy SEAL Team Six, a top military counter-terrorism unit, into the compound identified by the CIA as bin Laden's hideout — and back out again in less than 40 minutes. Bin Laden was shot in the head, officials said, after he and his bodyguards resisted the assault.
Three adult males were also killed in the raid, including one of bin Laden's sons, whom officials did not name. One of bin Laden's sons, Hamza, is a senior member of al-Qaida. U.S. officials also said one woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant, and two other women were injured.
The compound is about a half-mile from a Pakistani military academy, in a city that is home to three army regiments and thousands of military personnel. Abbottabad is surrounded by hills and with mountains in the distance.
Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan's security establishment of protecting bin Laden, though Islamabad has always denied it, and in a statement the foreign ministry said his death showed the country's resolve in the battle against terrorism.
The U.S. official who disclosed the burial at sea said it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains. Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial.
"I heard a thundering sound, followed by heavy firing. Then firing suddenly stopped. Then more thundering, then a big blast," said Mohammad Haroon Rasheed, a resident of Abbottabad, Pakistan, after the choppers had swooped in and then out again.
Bin Laden's death came 15 years after he declared war on the United States. Al-Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.
"We have rid the world of the most infamous terrorist of our time," CIA director Leon Panetta declared to employees of the agency in a memo Monday morning. He warned that "terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge" the killing of a man deemed uncatchable.