ISLAMABAD // The al Qa’eda founder and leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed in an 80-minute battle early this morning in the city of Abbottabad, witnesses said.
The United States is ensuring that bin Laden's body is being handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition, a US official told reporters on Monday.
The witnesses said they were awoken at about 12.45am local time by the sounds of explosions and, from their rooftops, could see three helicopters firing on a house in the suburb of Bilal Town, located on the Pakistan Military Academy Road. Sounds of shooting ended just after 2am, residents said.
“We watched as one of the helicopters was shot down and exploded when it hit the ground,” said Ehtesham-ul-Haq, 30, a businessman who watched from his home on a mountainside overlooking Abbottabad.
Express 24/7, a Lahore, Pakistan-based television station, last night showed video of what it said was compound in Abbottabad in flames. Several Pakistani televisions stations broadcast what they said was a still photograph of bin Laden’s body, with his face smeared with blood and his left eye mutilated, Bloomberg reported.
Barack Obama, the US president, gave the go ahead for the operation early in the morning of April 29, according to a US official.
Abbottabad is a city of 100,000 located 50km from the capital and 60km from Mansehra, where the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing, Umar Patek, was arrested by Pakistani intelligence operatives on March 29. Pakistani military units are based in Abbottabad and its civilian residential neighbourhoods are administered by military authorities.
Unconfirmed Pakistani media reports said the operation had involved commandos of Pakistan’s elite Special Services Group, possibly supported by two US army Apache gunship helicopters.
Pakistani cable news channels said bin Laden had been hiding in a house rented by a family from Pakistan’s tribal areas, where he fled in November 2001. The areas are heavily populated by militants.
Residents said Pakistani security forces have cordoned off the area.
A spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan issued a statement denying the death of bin Laden, and describing Mr Obama’s announcement as “baseless”.
However, sources in the Afghan Taliban, based in Karachi, said they had confirmed bin Laden’s death from their sympathisers in the Abbotabad area.
“We spent the night verifying the report and there is no doubt, he is dead,” said an Afghan Taliban source based in the southern city of Karachi, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The area around Abbotabad and Mansehra is crowded with seminaries.
Meanwhile militant sources said top members of al Qa’eda and Afghan Taliban living in hiding in Pakistan were preparing to leave the country.
Other Karachi-based militant sources connected with al Qa’eda said a successor to bin Laden would be announced very soon, possibly within 24 hours.
However, no violent reaction was being planned, they said.
“Right now, the priority is safety. All leading figures will be constantly on the move, not staying at one location for more than 15 minutes,” said the source.
“The decision has been taken for all of them to leave the country and return home to Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he said.
* Muzammil Pasha reported from Abbotabad and Amjad Hadayat reported from Karachi