Islamabad: Osama bin Laden was holed up in a two-storey house 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy when four helicopters carrying US anti-terror forces swooped in the early morning hours of Monday and killed him.
Flames rose on Monday from the building that was the apparent target of the raid as it was confirmed that the world`s most wanted fugitive died not in a cave, but in a town best known as a garrison for the Pakistani military. A US official said one of bin Laden`s sons was also killed in the raid alone with three others, but the official did not name the son or the others killed.
US officials said the helicopter raid in Pakistan was carried out by CIA paramilitaries together with the elite Navy SEAL Team Six.
Pakistani officials and a witness said bin Laden`s guards opened fire from the roof of the building, and one of the choppers crashed. The sound of at least two explosions rocked the small northwestern town of Abbottabad where the al Qaeda chief made his last stand. The US said no Americans were harmed in the raid.
Senior Pakistani security officials said the operation involved both helicopters and ground troops.
Abbottabad is home to at least one regiment of the Pakistani Army, is dotted with military buildings and home to thousands of Army personnel. Surrounded by hills and with mountains in the distance, it is less than half a days drive from the border region with Afghanistan, where most intelligence assessments believed bin Laden was holed up.
The news he was killed in an Army town in Pakistan will raise more pointed questions of how he managed to evade capture and whether Pakistan`s military and intelligence leadership knew of his whereabouts and sheltered him. Critics have long accused elements of Pakistan`s security establishment of protecting bin Laden, though Islamabad has always denied this.
Abbotabad resident Mohammad Haroon Rasheed said the raid happened about 1:15 am local time.
"I heard a thundering sound, followed by heavy firing. Then firing suddenly stopped. Then more thundering, then a big blast," he said. "In the morning when we went out to see what happened, some helicopter wreckage was lying in an open field."
He said the house was 100 meters (yards) away from the gate of the academy.
A Pakistani official in the town said fighters on the roof opened fire on the choppers as they came close to the building with rocket propelled grenades. Another official said four helicopters took off from the Ghazi air base in northwest Pakistan.
Last summer, the US Army was based in Ghazi to help out in the aftermath of the floods.
Women and children were taken into custody during the raid, he said.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Express 24/7 television showed an image of what it said was bin Laden shot in the head, his mouth pulled back in a grimace.
Pakistan faces awkward questions
Bin Laden was the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people and put the United States on a decade-long war footing.
The fact bin Laden was apparently living in relative luxury not far from Islamabad could pose awkward questions for Pakistan.
Just 10 days ago Pakistan`s Army chief addressed Army cadets at the academy near where bin Laden was killed, saying the country`s military had broken the back of militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"For some time there will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad," said Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst.
"If the ISI had known then somebody within the ISI must have leaked this information," Gul said, referring to the Pakistani intelligence agency. "Pakistan will have to do a lot of damage control because the Americans have been reporting he is in Pakistan ... this is a serious blow to the credibility of Pakistan."
However, defence analyst and former general Talat Masood said the fact bin Laden was killed in a joint operation would limit the damage to Pakistan`s image.
Abbotabad is a popular summer resort, located in a valley surrounded by green hills near Pakistani Kashmir.