TODAY   |  May 02, 2011

Bin Laden death marks end of an era

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports on the life and death of the most-wanted man in the world.

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>>> we're back with more of "today" on a monday morning. america and the world is reacting to the death of osama bin laden . we're going to speak live in a moment to the former secretary of defense to the united states donald rumsfeld . but first nbc's chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell on the life and death of the most wanted man in the world .

>> reporter: thanks, matt. good morning. the death of osama bin laden marks the end of an era . although perhaps no longer the world 's most dangerous terrorist, he is the man responsible for the worst terror attack in american history . as word spread through news reports and socialle media, spontaneous gatherings outside the white house , at ground zero and around the country. young and old celebrating the end of bin laden . he was the world 's most wanted terrorist. to most of the world , the embodiment of evil, but to radicalized muslims, a hero. in afghanistan in the 1980s osama bin laden fought against the soviets on america's side with guerillas trained and financed by the cia.

>> there is no doubt in my mind at one point or another we probably armed him.

>> reporter: then u.s. troops arrived in saudi arabia to fight the first gulf war against iraq. to bin laden , defiling his birthpla birthplace. u.s. intelligence says bin laden built terror training camps, launching a global terror network. within two years back in afghanistan bin laden ordered this -- the destruction of two u.s. embassies in africa. august, 1998 .

>> we would use all the means at our disposal to bring those responsible to justice.

>> reporter: president clinton retaliated, ordering 62 cruise missiles into bin laden 's afghan straining camp. bin laden got away. then the turn of the century and the world celebrated. but according to court testimony, only after the cia had foiled a bin laden plot to attack five locations, including los angeles international airport . the following october a suicide bomber attacked the u.s.s. cole in yemen. 17 sailors were killed. american intelligence quickly developed intelligence linking the attack to bin laden who praised the bombing. then bin laden 's most devastating plot of all, september 11th .

>> our responsibility to history is already clear. to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.

>> reporter: the u.s. answered with a five-month military strike in afghanistan , operation enduring freedom .

>> there is an old poster out west i recall that said, wanted, dead or alive .

>> reporter: while his top henchman and other top operatives were brought in, bin laden remained at large. for years administrations uh thought they had leads onlile to lose the trail.

>> this is something that's bedevilled this government for years. we'll continue to try to hunt him down. we'll get him.

>> reporter: now al qaeda has lost its leader after a manhunt for a man who literally terrorized the world .

>> the death of bin laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al qaeda . it does not mark the end of our efforts. there is no doubt that al qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. we must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.

>> reporter: senior officials say capturing or killing osama bin laden was the top priority . in effect he was public enemy number one. and they got him. matt?

>> all right, andrea mitchell , thank