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A white rose rests upon one of 184 memorial benches that honor the lives lost at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial was designed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman.
A white rose rests upon one of 184 memorial benches that honor the lives lost at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial was designed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman. (Robin Hoecker / S&S)

WASHINGTON — He was the monster who shattered our sense of security, who violated the sanctity of our homeland, who plunged America into a decade of war and fear and self-doubt.

On Sunday, at last, America got its revenge. A highly trained team of U.S. Navy SEALs raided the fortified hideout of Osama bin Laden in a wealthy Pakistani suburb and put a bullet in his head. Then, after verifying the identity of the world’s most wanted terrorist, they buried bin Laden at sea, never to been seen again.

“Rot in Hell!” was among the most popular tabloid headlines Monday morning. One newspaper declared “We got the bastard!” Crowds outside the White House chanted “U-S-A” and “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye” on national news broadcasts.

For more than 3,500 days, Americans wondered whether the elusive mastermind who orchestrated the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil would ever be brought to justice.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. More than twice that many American troops were killed in the two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, that followed.

But the fallout from al-Qaida’s breach of the American homeland spread far beyond the thousands of lost lives and billions in lost treasure. Bin Laden managed to throw America onto the defensive like no other fascist or communist foe before him had ever done.

Invasive X-rays and intrusive pat-downs are now fixtures at airports, government facilities and office buildings. An entire industry has ballooned around personal and corporate security, altering how public buildings and spaces are constructed. The Department of Homeland Security, an agency that didn’t exist before 2003, now advises every American family to pack an emergency kit and escape plan in the event of a future terrorist attack.

“The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory,” a somber President Barack Obama told the nation late Sunday night as he announced the news of bin Laden’s death. “And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world: The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

But Obama also called the 10-year search for bin Laden “a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people,” and he vowed to continue the fight against remaining al-Qaida terrorists.

Since 2001, bin Laden had released numerous messages to followers threatening future attacks and taunting American defense leaders for their failure to capture him.

But speculation on his hiding place had largely focused on the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, White House officials said, the terrorist leader was found in a $1 million secluded compound, living in a neighborhood popular among retired Pakistani military officers, just a few hundred feet from a major Pakistani Army garrison.

The 54-year-old terrorist leader was killed in what the White House called a daring “surgical strike” alongside one of his adult sons and two other men, one of whom used a female bystander as a human shield to try to escape the attack.

Obama called bin Laden a symbol of terror and suffering, and his death “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida.” Former President George W. Bush, who famously vowed to bring all of the Sept. 11 terrorists to justice, called bin Laden’s death “a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world.”

But both congressional and White House officials noted that bin Laden’s death does not mean the end of the al-Qaida threat. Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri is presumed to be the next in line to take control of the terrorist group, although a senior defense official on Sunday called him “far less charismatic and not as well respected within the organization.”

White House officials said that the assault team that killed bin Laden brought back his body to U.S. experts for DNA testing, to confirm his identity. Forensics experts for the government had subpoenaed the body of one of bin Laden’s sisters when she died several years ago in Boston, anticipating the need for an identity match.

His body was then buried at sea in part because officials from Saudi Arabia and other nations refused to accept his remains, defense officials said on Monday. There was also a desire to keep any terrestrial burial place from becoming a terrorist shrine.

Military officials had placed a bounty of $25 million on bin Laden’s head, in hopes that desperate radicals within the al-Qaida structure might give up the location of the world’s most-wanted man. Whether anyone can now make a claim to that reward is not yet known.

Senior White House officials said Obama made bin Laden’s capture a key focus of intelligence efforts for the last three years, calling him a “mass murderer” who needed to be brought to justice.

On Sunday, 66 years to the day that Adolf Hitler’s death was announced on BBC radio, Obama told the American public that “Justice has been done.”

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @LeoShane

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