Timeline: How the U.S. Found and Killed Osama bin Laden

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Reuters/Stringer/File

Osama bin-Laden addresses a news conference in Afghanistan May 26, 1998.

Details of America’s plan to find and kill Osama bin Laden are still emerging. Here’s what reports have told us so far:

May Day, 2011:

1pm EST – Top advisers began to gather at the White House in preparation for the strike.

2pm EST – Obama joins his advisers to review the final preparations.

Meanwhile, in an affluent suburb near the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, 62 miles outside Islamabad, helicopters flew towards a heavily guarded mansion. Clues gathered since 9/11 led a small team of U.S. Special Forces to this place, and not the remote tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was said to be hiding. Given the go-ahead, the troops stormed the compound.

Forty minutes and a gunfight later, one of the world’s most notorious terrorists lay dead, along with his son and two couriers. The BBC reports two women who were also inside at the time were injured and another died during the firefight. No American forces were injured in the raid, but CNN reports a U.S. helicopter crashed, and had to be destroyed with explosives set by U.S. troops for “security reasons.”

A senior administration official told CNN that any intelligence about bin Laden was not shared with foreign governments and the details of the raid were only known to a small group of individuals in the U.S. government. However, a high-level Pakistani intelligence official said to CNN their intelligence officers were also on standby in Abbottabad.

(More on TIME.com: Death Comes for the Master Terrorist)

3:32 pm EST – Obama returns to the situation room for another update.

3:50 pm EST – The president is told bin Laden appears to be one of those killed during the operation.

7:00pm EST – Obama is told there was “high probability” bin Laden was killed.

At some point in between: Senior US administration officials brief journalists.

Around 10:45 pm EST – After confirmation, Obama announces to the world that U.S. forces have killed bin Laden and are in custody of his body. Soon after, the green outside the White House is filled with revelers, chanting, singing and waving flags celebrating the downfall of the man who is said to be the mastermind behind 9/11.

How the covert plan was hatched:

After 9/11 the CIA chased several leads about bin Laden’s inner circle, paying particular attention to his couriers. According to the National Journal, one courier’s pseudonym was repeatedly mentioned by those detained by the U.S. He was said to be one of bin Laden’s most trusted, a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and trusted assistant to Abu Faraj al Libbi, al-Qaida’s third highest-ranking official before his capture in 2005.While at first they had no luck figuring out his true identity, the BBC reports four years ago they caught a break. They figured out his true and identity and two years later, they found the rough location where the courier and his brother lived in Pakistan.

According to a report by the Guardian, once on the ground, the Americans realized the mansion was not a normal residence. Valued at around $1 million, it had no phone or Internet connection, and the 12-18 foot high walls were topped with barbed wire. Access was severely restricted and the main structure was three stories high but had no windows. What was also suspicious was that the brothers had no known source of income, and there was another family living with them — a family whose description matched that of bin Laden’s.

In September 2010, the Guardian reported the CIA presented President Obama with their findings, showing bin Laden could be hiding in the compound in northwest Pakistan. By February the CIA were confident it was indeed the place, and the President convened 5-9 (depending on if you talk to the Guardian or the National Journal) National Security Council meetings to discuss the matter. On the last of these on April 29th, 2011, the president gave the go ahead.

The rest is history.

(Via the Guardian, CNN, BBC and the National Journal)

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