WASHINGTON, Feb 11: “There was (Osama) Bin Laden standing there. 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,” says the man who killed the Al Qaeda chief.
In this first ever interview to the media, the US Navy SEAL who killed Bin Laden shares the details of the operation with the Esquire magazine, telling interviewer Phil Bronstein how the raid had affected his life.
Fearing a possible terrorist reprisal, his wife left him and he has been unemployed since he retired from the Navy in September, 2012.
The woman Bin Laden was using as a shield, the Navy SEAL explained, was his youngest wife, Amal.
When the Team6, which killed the Al-Qaeda chief, arrived at Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 1, it was “coal-dark” and they could hear Bin Laden and other residents but could not see them without their night-scopes.
Bin Laden “looked confused” and was “way taller than I was expecting”, said the shooter. “He had a cap on and didn’t appear to be hit. I can’t tell you 100 per cent, but he was standing and moving. He was holding her in front of him. Maybe as a shield, I don’t know,” he said.
“For me, it was a snapshot of a target ID, definitely him. Even in our kill houses where we train, there are targets with his face on them. This was repetition and muscle memory. That’s him, boom, done.”
Bin Laden was skinny, tall and had a short beard. He was wearing a white headgear, which showed his almost shaved head. “I remember all that registering. I was amazed how tall he was, taller than all of us, and it didn’t seem like he would be, because all those guys were always smaller than you think,” said the shooter.
“I’m just looking at him from right here [he moves his hand out from his face about 10 inches]. He’s got a gun on a shelf right there, the short AK he’s famous for. And he’s moving forward,” he added.
“I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up].”
“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. That time I used my (electronic) red-dot holo sight. He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.
“And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done? This is real and that’s him.”
Explaining why he shot Bin Laden at first sight without making any effort to arrest him, the US Navy SEAL said: “Everybody wanted him dead, but nobody wanted to say, hey, you’re going to kill this guy. It was just sort of understood that’s what we wanted to do.”
The shooter also endorsed the Obama administration’s decision to turn down media requests for releasing photos of the shooting.
“His forehead was gruesome. It was split open in the shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face. The American public doesn’t want to know what that looks like,” he said.
After the shooting Bin Laden’s second wife, Amal, turned back, screaming, first at bin Laden and then at the shooter.
“She came at me like she wanted to fight me, or that she wanted to die instead of him. So I put her on the bed, bound with zip ties”.
The SEAL then noticed Bin Laden’s youngest son, who was about two or three, was standing there on the other side of the bed.
“I didn’t want to hurt him, because I’m not a savage. There was a lot of screaming, he was crying, just in shock. I didn’t like that he was scared.
He’s a kid, and had nothing to do with this. I picked him up and put him next to his mother. I put some water on his face”.
Before they killed Bin Laden, the team also had “zip-tied two other women they met in the compound.
The third-floor action and killing took maybe 15 seconds.