Osama bin Laden, the elusive mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, has been killed in a fire-fight, the US says.
Bin Laden's reported death at a compound in Pakistan ended the world's most widely-watched manhunt, and jubilant crowds gathered outside the White House and at Ground Zero in New York as word spread late at night.
“Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama said on Sunday.
A small team of Americans killed bin Laden earlier in the day in the town of Abbottabat, about 100 kilometres north of the capital Islamabad, US and Pakistani officials said.
The stunning end came just months before the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, orchestrated by bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation, that killed more than 3,000 people.
Former President George W Bush, who was in office on the day of the attacks, issued a written statement hailing bin Laden's death as a momentous achievement.
“The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” Bush said.
Obama said he ordered the operation after receiving undisclosed intelligence information. Senior administration officials said the terrorist mastermind was found inside a custom-built compound with two security gates.
They said it appeared to have been constructed to harbour one high-value target and that for undisclosed reasons, officials became clear the hideout was bin Laden's.
The raid occurred in the early morning hours Sunday. Administration officials offered some details of the operation.
Based on statements given by US detainees, intelligence officials have known for years that bin Laden trusted one al-Qaeda courier in particular and they believed he might be living with him in hiding. In November, intelligence officials found out where he was living, a huge fortified compound.
Three adult males were also killed in Sunday's 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-Qaeda.
Officials also said they believe the death puts al-Qaeda on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse, but there was no word on the whereabouts of bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
The attacks a decade ago seemed to come out of nowhere, even though al-Qaeda had previously damaged American targets overseas.
The terrorists hijacked planes, flew one of them into one of Manhattan's Twin Towers - and, moments later, into the other one. Both buildings collapsed, trapping thousands inside and claiming the lives of fire-fighters and others who had rushed to help them.
A third plane slammed into the Pentagon, defacing the symbol of America's military might. A fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers overpowered the hijackers and forced the craft from the air - before it could hit its intended target in Washington.
Obama spoke to Bush and former President Bill Clinton on Sunday night to inform them of the developments.
Obama struck a less than boastful tone in his brief announcement, although he said the death of bin Laden was “the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaeda".
“His death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant,” he added.
Moments after he spoke, American officials cautioned that the events could lead to heightened threats against the US.
In Pakistan, the Islamist Taleban militia have threatened attacks against government leaders, the army and the US.
"Now Pakistani rulers, President Zardari and the army will be our first target. America will be our second target," Reuters news agency quoted a Taleban spokesman as saying.
A top al-Qaeda ideologue going by the online name Assad al-Jihad2 posted on extremist websites a long eulogy for bin Laden and promised to "avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam."
President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey welcomed the news of bin Laden's death.
She said Switzerland condemned all kinds of terrorism and was in favour of actions aimed at putting an end to international terrorism.
"My thoughts are with all the victims [of international terrorism] and their families," she said.
Calmy-Rey is currently in Tunisia where she is meeting Swiss ambassadors to North African and Middle Eastern countries.
Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said Switzerland is not a prime target of Islamic terrorists, but he would not exclude attacks.
Markus Seiler, director of the Federal Intelligence Service, said bin Laden's death had no direct impact on Switzerland.
He said bin Laden headed what was essentially a "small hardcore group of al-Qaeda" which "for a long time has been incapable of influencing terrorist actions of regional branches of al-Qaeda".end of infobox
swissinfo.ch and agencies