10 Biggest Manhunts of All Time

Osama bin Laden
The New York Daily News cover says it all the day after Osama bin Laden was killed. © Viviane Moos/Corbis

The manhunt for the leader of the militant Islamist organization al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, took so long, made so little progress and included so few clues that for a time he was simply presumed dead [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].

The hunt for bin Laden began in 1998 after simultaneous bombings at U.S. embassies in Africa killed hundreds of people. Although al-Qaida was believed to be responsible for the attacks, bin Laden's whereabouts remained a mystery. After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, also believed to be the work of al-Qaida, the manhunt intensified.

In 2011, the CIA discovered new information about bin Laden's whereabouts. Twenty-three Navy SEALS from Team 6 were mobilized in two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to capture bin Laden, who was hiding in a compound in the city of Abbotabad, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) from the Pakistan border.

After darkness fell on May 1, 2011, SEAL Team 6 boarded the aircraft, which had been outfitted with radar-avoiding covers and modified to stifle noise and heat, and flew into Pakistani airspace and then to bin Laden's compound.

The next 25 minutes were a real nail-biter. The SEALS entered bin Laden's house with an unfamiliar floor plan, encountered wives, children and expected booby traps or enemy fire. When they reached the third floor, they discovered bin Laden. A Navy SEAL shot him in the chest and radioed "Geronimo, E.K.I.A." for "enemy killed in action." At the White House, President Obama echoed, "We got him" [sources: Schmidle, White].