A former special forces' soldier, Rob O'Neill, has told the Washington Post that he killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. He made similar claims last year under a pseudonym - but some dispute his version of events.
Rob O'Neill, formerly a member of the US Navy's elite SEAL Team 6, claimed in Thursday's Washington Post newspaper that he fired the fatal shots against al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. US news agency the Associated Press reported that one current and one former SEAL, both speaking on condition of anonymity, supported O'Neill's account.
O'Neill told the paper that he decided to go public for fear that his identity would be released by the SOFREP website operated by former SEALs, however SOFREP said it released O'Neill's identity in protest at him revealing his role in the mission.
The 38-year-old also spoke at length about his role, calling this a spontaneous decision, in a private meeting with families of 9/11 victims ahead of the recent opening of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum. O'Neill donated the shirt he wore during the operation, which is now on display there.
He first revealed himself last year in an interview with Esquire magazine, which at the time identified him only as "The Shooter." In that piece, O'Neill depicts himself as the sole shooter, out of three SEALs present, to hit his mark in the third-floor bedroom of Bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. O'Neill said that the "point man" at the head of his group was the first to fire at Bin Laden, as he poked his head out into the hallway, but that those shots missed. He then said that the point man intercepted and smothered two women pushed out into the hallway, while he moved into the bedroom and shot the al Qaeda leader.
"There was bin Laden standing there," he told Esquire in May 2013. "He had his hands on a woman's shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly towards me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. It was his youngest wife, Amal.
"In that second, I shot him two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he's going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again. Bap! Same place… He was dead."
The 38-year-old is scheduled for a string of television interviews with Fox News next week, where he could perhaps face some challenging questions. Firstly, O'Neill and a rival storyteller present at the operation, Matt Bissonnette, have come under heavy criticism from military officials for breaking the group's code or ethos. Secondly, the pair's stories seem to contradict each other in places.
"At Naval Special Warfare's core is the SEAL ethos," an open letter from Rear Admiral Brian Losey and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci said. "A critical tenet of our ethos is 'I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions' … We do not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety or financial gain."
The Bissonnette account
The 2012 bestselling book "No Easy Day" written by Matt Bissonnette (under the pen name Mark Owen) tells a slightly different tale of the mission.
Bissonnette - who faces charges of divulging state secrets for the publication, but denies any wrongdoing - argues that the "point man" shot and hit bin Laden, probably wounding him mortally. Bissonnette said he then ran into the bedroom and shot Bin Laden again to ensure he was dead, along with another SEAL.
"Two different people telling two different stories for two different reasons," NBC News quoted Bisonneette as saying in response to O'Neill's comments. "Whatever he says, he says. I don't want to touch that."
A commentary on CNN from al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen, based largely on an interview with a SEAL Team 6 member, seemed to corroborate Bissonnette's account. The source was quoted as saying "never in a million years" would the "point man" from the mission go public with what he knew.
Verifying the rival stories is difficult, at best. Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, at a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After the raid, his body was taken to Afghanistan for identification and then buried at sea.
msh/av (AFP, AP, Reuters)