NEW YORK — Visiting this city just days after the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks was killed by U.S. special operations forces, President Obama on Thursday told police and firefighters that the terrorist’s death was proof that American justice has a long reach.
In surprise visits to the “Pride of Midtown” firehouse, which lost 15 men in the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and then later at the 1st Precinct police station in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Obama said the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan did it “in the name of your brothers that were lost.”
“What happened on Sunday, because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence, sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say,” the president told the firefighters.
He also visited with family members of victims of the attack and laid a wreath at the 9/11 memorial at ground zero. His motorcade was greeted by cheering crowds along the way.
The purpose of the visit, the White House said, was to commemorate the loss of nearly 3,000 lives a decade ago and to try to bring a sense of “closure” now that bin Laden is dead. White House officials also said Mr. Obama will meet privately Friday with some members of the elite special operations forces team involved in the raid on a visit to Fort Campbell, Ky.
In New York, Mr. Obama told the first responders that the daring raid that killed bin Laden was “directly connected to what you do every single day.”
“A lot of you continue to do extraordinarily courageous acts without a lot of fanfare,” he said at the police station. “And I know I speak for the military teams, the intelligence teams that helped get bin Laden in saying that we know the sacrifices and courage that you show as well, and that you are part of the team that helped us achieve our goal, but also help us keep our citizens safe each and every day.”
The president was accompanied by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican mayor of New York at the time of the attacks who won widespread praise for his handling of the aftermath.
“I very much appreciate the fact that Mayor Giuliani is here, because obviously we remember his leadership and courage on that day as well,” Mr. Obama said. “And it’s a testimony that we may have our differences, politically, in ordinary times, but when it comes to keeping this country safe, we are, first and foremost, Americans.”
Mr. Obama said he decided not to release photos of bin Laden’s corpse and, after giving a detailed narrative of the raid earlier this week, the White House has since declined to discuss specifics.
In talking about his decision, Mr. Obama told CBS News that he didn’t want to “spike the football.”
Asked about that choice of words, his press secretary, Jay Carney, said the president wasn’t accusing Americans of trying to gloat but was making the point that releasing the bin Laden pictures “is not helpful to national security interests.”
“We don’t trot out photos as trophies. And since we established beyond any doubt the identity of Osama bin Laden, the fact that he was killed, there is no need to release those photos,” Mr. Carney said.
But the administration’s hopes to put a lid on the swirl of questions concerning the raid were undercut again Thursday.
A senior Pentagon official, briefing reporters in Washington, revealed that just one of the five people killed in the operation was armed and fired any shots, one more detail that was in sharp contrast to the original story of an intense, lengthy firefight put out by Obama administration officials in the hectic first hours after the mission was completed.
The sole shooter in the al Qaeda leader’s Pakistani compound was killed quickly in the early minutes of the commando operation, according to a more comprehensive account compiled after the Navy SEAL team members were debriefed upon their return to the United States.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.