Artifacts Tell the Story of the Killing of Osama bin Laden

A sign that tracked the days Osama bin Laden was at large is displayed on a white surface. The sign reads: “9 years, 232 days since 9/11/01. Where is Osama bin Laden?” A yellow piece of paper beside the sign reads “Dead.”
Cheryl Stewart's "Where is Osama bin Laden?" sign. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum.

On this day in 2011, President Barack Obama announced to the nation that Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in a raid of his Abbottabad, Pakistan compound. The 9/11 Memorial Museum collection is home to several artifacts related to Operation Neptune Spear that represent this important moment in our nation’s history.

Shirt worn by U.S. Navy Seal Team Six member. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, photo by Jin Lee.

Intended for wear under body armor, this camouflage shirt was worn by one of the U.S. Navy Seal Team Six members present when Osama bin Laden was killed during the nighttime raid of his hideout on May 1, 2011. The success of the mission, known as Operation Neptune Spear, ended a global manhunt — that started before 9/11 — for the ringleader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Operation Neptune Spear commemorative challenge coin. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, photo by Jin Lee.

This challenge coin commemorates the successful conclusion of Operation Neptune Spear. The coin features a blue border and white center with the date of the completed mission (“1 May | 2011”) on one side and a red “X” on the other. After 9/11, President George W. Bush kept a list in his desk of key al-Qaeda operatives still at large. Whenever one was exposed, arrested, or killed, he would make a red X mark through the assailant’s name. Osama bin Laden’s name was at the top of the list.

The coin was donated to the 9/11 Memorial Museum by “Maya,” the alias for the CIA operative who pursued bin Laden and whose personal narrative became the basis for the film “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Brick from bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, photo by Matt Flynn.

Eluding capture, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his family had been living in a “safe house” in Pakistan for several years before he was killed in 2011. Local authorities razed the compound in February 2012. Before the complex was completely demolished, journalist Dominic Di-Natale chiseled a brick from the house’s foundation as a souvenir. A correspondent with Fox News then based in the capital city of Islamabad, Di-Natale had been reporting on the War on Terror and the international manhunt for bin Laden.

Cheryl Stewart's "Where is Osama bin Laden?" sign. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Late on the night of May 1, 2011, in a televised address, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Like other efforts to thwart al-Qaeda, this mission reflected the work of untold numbers of men and women dedicated to ensuring U.S. and international security.

Brooklyn resident Cheryl Stewart placed a sign in her yard to count the days that bin Laden remained at large. By the morning of May 2, 2011, a passerby had taped a note to the sign to share the news.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

Previous Post

Remembering Richard Guadagno, a Devoted Steward of Nature

Richard Guadagno, a lover of the outdoors who worked as a manager at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, smiles for a portrait photograph on a hillside. He was on Flight 93.

Richard J. Guadagno wanted to dedicate his life to protecting the environment. Growing up in Ewing, New Jersey, Guadagno loved animals and the outdoors, and he was a keen gardener.

View Blog Post

Next Post

The Story Behind the First FDNY Chief to Respond to the World Trade Center on 9/11

FDNY Chief Joseph Pfeifer smiles as he poses for an official photo in his formal FDNY uniform.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, FDNY Chief Joseph Pfeifer was on a routine call in lower Manhattan. Hearing the loud roar of an airplane overhead, Pfeifer looked up to see hijacked Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower.

View Blog Post