*Updated Below with Bernie Sanders' Comment*
Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed during a firefight that erupted during a 40-minute, intense helicopter raid on Sunday, and members of Vermont's congressional delegation reacted with a sense of relief and gratitude.
Pres. Barack Obama addressed the nation around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night to announce the news that bin Laden had been killed, and his body captured. Obama ordered the raid on Friday and a small team carried out the mission.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) received a personal phone call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing bin Laden's death.
"When Secretary Clinton called me at home to alert me that the president would be announcing that Bin Laden was dead, many thoughts and emotions came quickly to the surface," said Leahy in a statement. "I thought of the countless lives ended and disrupted by this malevolent figure. Thousands of Americans and thousands more of other nationalities were innocent victims of his self-righteous venom, and so many brave men and women have died in the struggle to bring him to justice. Our thoughts and prayers again are with the 9-11 families and our service members overseas."
"We are also mindful of the need for continued vigilance," added Leahy. "It is an appropriate end of a life misspent fomenting hate, death and destruction."
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) thanked the Vermont soldiers who have been killed fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and expressed hope that Bin Laden's death will bring some solace to the victims of 9-11.
"At long last, the mastermind of the September 11th attack on America has been brought to justice. Tonight's announcement by Pres. Obama is welcome news to all Vermonters and all Americans, especially to the families and loved ones of those murdered by Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001," said Welch in a statement. "I know I join all Vermonters in the hope that this news will in some way ease the heavy burden still weighing on these families. And I am especially mindful tonight of the Vermont soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in support of America's response to this senseless act of terrorism. While we anxiously await the details of the operation that sealed bin Laden's fate, it is clear that its success is a testament to the bravery, persistence and dedication of the men and women of America's armed services."
Pres. Obama gave the green light on Friday to the raid on a secure compound some 35 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan, according to senior White House officials who spoke to reporters on a conference call after the president's speech.
Also killed during the raid were three men and one woman. Of the three men, the White House officials believe two were couriers and one was an adult son of Bin Laden. The woman who was killed had been used as a human shield by one of the men, the officials claimed. One U.S. helicopter was lost during the raid, but it was due to a mechanical failure.
The compound had been under increased surveillance by intelligence officials since last September. In mid-February intelligence officials approached the president with credible evidence that Bin Laden was living at this compound.
The compound, said a senior official, appears to have been built about five years ago and may have been built specifically for Bin Laden. US officials said they were unsure how long Bin Laden had been living at this fortified compound. Its external walls were 12- to 18-feet high with razor wire on the top, with additional walls inside. The property was valued at $1 million and had no telephone lines.
It's unclear what will be done with Bin Laden's body, but a senior administration official said it would be handled in accordance with the Islamic faith. [Ed. Note: Bin Laden's body was "buried at sea," something some Muslim clerics are now saying violates Islamic tradition.]
In his remarks to the nation, Pres. Obama reiterated that the United States is not at war with Islam, but with bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
"As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President [George W.] Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims," said Obama. "Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."
Sunday marked the eight-year anniversary of Pres. George W. Bush's famous "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Ironically, May 1 is also the day that Adolf Hitler's death was confirmed to the world. The German leader committed suicide on April 30, 1945, but his death wasn't confirmed until a day later.
* update *
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) issued this statement Monday morning on the death of Osama bin Laden. Also, it was reported this morning that bin Laden's body was buried at sea. Finally, if it wasn't clear in the blog post, I did sit in on the briefing call with senior White House officials.
You can read the full transcript of that briefing call here.
Here is Sanders' reaction:
“The death of Osama bin Laden is a historic moment in our fight against international terrorism and his Al Qaeda organization.
“I applaud the extraordinary bravery of those American military personnel who participated in this highly-effective operation, the intelligence operation that made it possible and the leadership of President Obama. At this moment, we also must not forget the American men and women from Vermont and around the country whose service and sacrifice in the struggle to defend our country has made us safer.
“It is impossible to predict the future, but I hope the death of Osama bin Laden and the growth of democratic movements in the Muslim world mark a momentous turning point, which leads the region toward peace and prosperity and away from terrorism, death and destruction.”