Who shot Osama Bin Laden? Finding an answer to that question has been an acrimonious process with multiple differing accounts of what exactly happened the night of May 2, 2011, when SEAL Team Six raided the al-Qaida leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Robert O’Neill, who was one of dozens of special forces on the raid, tells the Washington Post he fired the fatal shot, taking out the world’s most wanted and most notorious terrorist.
Here’s what O’Neill told the Post about that night and his decision to speak up about his role in the mission:
O’Neill confirmed to The Washington Post that he was the unnamed SEAL who was first to tumble through the doorway of bin Laden’s bedroom that night, taking aim at the terrorist leader as he stood in darkness behind his youngest wife. In an account later confirmed by two other SEALs, the Montana native described firing the round that hit bin Laden squarely in the forehead, killing him instantly…
O’Neill’s experiences during the bin Laden raid were first described last year to journalist Phil Bronstein for a February 2013 Esquire magazine article that, by agreement, referred to him only as “the shooter.” In the piece, he described advancing through bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with five other SEALs, eventually reaching the third floor, where bin Laden lived with his wives. As other team members peeled off to search different rooms, O’Neill found himself in the No. 2 position, behind the point man, for the final assault on bin Laden’s bedroom. When bin Laden briefly appeared at the door, the SEAL at the front of the line fired a shot that apparently missed.
“He looked confused,” O’Neill was quoted in the Esquire magazine as saying. “He was way taller than I was expecting. He had a cap on and didn’t appear to be hit.” Bin Laden was “standing and moving,” thrusting one of his wives in front of him as if to use her as a shield. “In that second I shot him, two times in the forehead,” he said. “Bap! Bap! The second time, as he is going down. He crumbled to the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again.” O’Neill told The Post that it was clear bin Laden had died instantly, his skull split by the first bullet…
His decision to talk came nearly two years after another team member, Matt Bissonnette, published a controversial account of the raid in the book titled, “No Easy Day.” It also follows what O’Neill has described as an agonizing personal struggle, as he weighed concerns over privacy and safety against a desire to have a least some control over a story that appeared likely to break, with or without his consent.
“The public claims have antagonized senior officials, prompted a criminal investigation over disclosing classified information and alienated fellow SEALs, who object to individuals taking credit or cashing in on team efforts,” according to the New York Times. Also, “multiple military officials and fellow SEALs have said that it was a third person, the point man on the darkened staircase that night, who fired the first shot that felled the terrorist leader.”