Officials had long believed that bin Laden was hiding a mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In August, U.S. intelligence officials got a tip on his whereabouts, which led to the operation that culminated Sunday, Obama said.
U.S. officials told NBC News that U.S. Special Operations forces carried out the attack on the al-Qaida compound, killing bin Laden when they shot him in the head during a firefight.
The special operations forces returned with the body to Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. They said they were ensuring that it was being handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.
"We take this very seriously. This is being handled in an appropriate manner," one said.
Senior administration officials said U.S. officials believed they had known where bin Laden was since September. By mid-February, information developed that made them confident that the information was sound.
In mid-March, Obama headed five National Security Council meetings on the subject. Friday morning, he gave the final order to carry out the attack on a compound in what was described as an "affluent suburb" of Islamabad.
"The bottom line of our collection and analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound held a high-value terrorist target," a senior official said, with a "strong probability" that it was bin Laden.
Bin Laden's compound was huge and "extraordinarily unique," about eight times larger than other homes in the area, U.S. officials said.
They said the compound was isolated by 12-foot walls, with access restricted to two security gates. It had no telephone or Internet service and had clearly been custom built to hide "someone of significance."