When one of Osama bin Laden's most trusted aides picked up the phone last year, he unknowingly led US pursuers to the doorstep of the world's most wanted terrorist.
A US official said the monitored call ended a years-long search for bin Laden's personal courier. It was the key break in a worldwide manhunt. The courier, in turn, led US intelligence to a walled compound in northeast Pakistan, where a team of Navy SEALs shot bin Laden to death.
Inside the CIA team hunting bin Laden, it always was clear that bin Laden's vulnerability was his couriers. He was too smart to let al-Qaeda foot soldiers, or even his senior commanders, know his hideout. But if he wanted to get his messages out, somebody had to carry them, someone bin Laden trusted with his life.
Intelligence learned about the courier known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti from detainees in the CIA's secret prison network.
Ahmed was a shadowy figure for US intelligence, someone it took many years to identify. For a long time, intelligence officials knew him only by his nom de guerre, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. The first indications about his significance came from CIA detainees shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Ahmed and his brother were killed in the same predawn raid Monday that left bin Laden dead.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Osama bin Laden was far from alone when US forces launched their assault on his compound in Pakistan.
The official tells The Associated Press that 23 children and nine women were in the compound that had served as bin Laden's secret home for six years. The official says the women and children were turned over to Pakistani authorities.
The official, who had been briefed on the operation, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
The intense firefight also left dead one of bin Laden's sons, two al-Qaeda facilitators and an unidentified woman.
The official says the US forces captured a great deal of material from the site, from documents to electronic hardware.
The CIA is already poring over confiscated hard drives, DVDs and other documents.
The agency is looking for inside information on al-Qaeda, including clues that might lead to his presumed successor, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri.
Al-Qaeda under al-Zawahri would likely be further radicalized, unleashing a new wave of attacks to avenge bin Laden's killing by US troops in Pakistan.
Al-Zawahri's extremist views and his readiness to use deadly violence are beyond doubt.
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