Washington: Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday in a firefight with US forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, President Barack Obama said on Sunday.

“Justice has been done," Obama said in a dramatic, late-night White House speech announcing the death of the elusive mastermind of the 11 Sept. 2001, attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.

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An image made from Express TV video shows the dead body of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, as seen in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday. AP Photo

And it was at least a huge symbolic blow to al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that has staged bloody attacks in many western and Arab countries cities and has been the subject of a worldwide campaign against it.

US President Barack Obama announcing the death of Osama bin Laden, from the East Room of the White House in Washington on Sunday. Jason Reed / Reuters Photo

In Washington, thousands of people gathered quickly outside the White House, waving American flags, cheering and chanting “USA, USA, USA." Car drivers blew their horns in celebration and people streamed to Lafayette Park across from the presidential mansion. Police vehicles with their lights flashing stood vigil.

“I’m down here to witness the history. My boyfriend is commissioning as a Marine next week. So I’m really proud of the troops," Laura Vogler, a junior at American University in Washington, said outside the White House.

Crowds gathers outside the White House in Washington to celebrate after President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP photo

Intelligence that originated last August provided the clues that eventually led to bin Laden’s trail, the president said. A US official said Obama gave the final order to pursue the operation last Friday morning.

“The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of men, women and children," Obama said.

A crowd gathered in Lafayette Park outside the White House erupted in jubilation at the news. Hundreds of people waved flags, hugged and cheered.

Captured Dead

Former President George W. Bush, who famously vowed to bring bin Laden to justice “dead or alive" but never did, called the operation a “momentous achievement" after Obama called him with the news.

Martin Indyk, a former US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, described bin Laden’s death as “a body blow" to al-Qaeda at a time when its ideology was already being undercut by the popular revolutions in the Arab world.

Slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian linked to the terror network. Reuters (File Photo)

Said former President Bill Clinton: “I congratulate the President, the national security team and the members of our armed forces on bringing Osama bin Laden to justice after more than a decade of murderous al Qaeda attacks."

Having the body may help convince any doubters that bin Laden is really dead.

Bin Laden had been hunted since he eluded US soldiers and Afghan militia forces in a large-scale assault on the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan close to the Pakistan frontier in 2001.

The trail quickly went cold after he disappeared and many intelligence officials believed he had been hiding in Pakistan.

While in hiding, bin Laden had taunted the West and advocated his militant Islamist views in videotapes spirited from his hideaway.

Besides 11 Sept, Washington has also linked bin Laden to a string of attacks -- including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen.

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