Osama bin Laden was well aware American forces had come for him the night he heard the commotion outside his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan on May 1, 2011, and the terror leader went for his gun to fight back, according to a new account of the raid given to Pakistani investigators.
“The Shaikh [Bin Laden] said American helicopters had arrived and they [his family] should leave his room immediately. They were unwilling to do so… The Shaikh reached for his weapon,” says Pakistan’s Abbottabad Commission report, published today by Al Jazeera.
The account, based on Pakistani investigators’ interviews with bin Laden’s family, including those who were there when bin Laden died, for the most part coincides with previous accounts of the raid as told by Navy SEALs on the operation and U.S. officials in Washington. But the new account does little to clear up controversial disputed details in those first retellings – including discrepancies over bin Laden’s intent to fight.
According to Al Jazeera and the Abbottabad Commission report, bin Laden was in bed with his youngest wife, Amal, when the couple first heard what they thought was a storm shortly after midnight. Amal went to turn on the light, but bin Laden yelled “No!” and quickly realized American forces had come to get him. He yelled to his son, Khalid, and later Amal and two of bin Laden’s daughters recited verses from the Koran. Khalid would later be killed by the SEALs.
Then bin Laden and his family heard people coming towards them, both from above and below, and Amal saw “an American soldier on the landing outside the bedroom aiming his weapon at the Shaikh,” the Commission report says, citing Amal’s version of events. Amal rushed the soldier, the soldier yelled, “No! No!” and then shot her in the leg. The next thing Amal knew, bin Laden was on the ground and bleeding from the head.
No further mention is made of bin Laden’s weapon, one of a few points of contention in previous accounts of the raid. Unnamed U.S. officials originally said that bin Laden was among several people who took up arms and engaged the SEALs in a firefight at the Abbottabad compound. A day later, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said bin Laden was unarmed when killed, but had “resisted.”
A SEAL Team Six member who was on the raid and wrote a book about it under the pseudonym Mark Owen said bin Laden was shot by another SEAL as he poked his head out of his bedroom door, apparently before he had a chance to resist. The SEALs only later found bin Laden’s weapon, an AK-47, above the doorway, unloaded, Owen said.
Another book written about the raid, “The Finish” by military writer Mark Bowden, which was based on interviews with top U.S. officials including President Obama, noted that a weapon had been found on a shelf after bin Laden was killed, it had apparently not been “picked up.”
Months later, another SEAL on the mission, who claimed to be the one that actually shot bin Laden in the head, came forward in an interview for Esquire saying that bin Laden’s gun was visible and “within reach” when he was killed. That version of events, in turn, was disputed by other SEAL Team Six members who spoke to CNN and the military website SOFREP.com.
The Abbottabad Commission report also differs from all the American accounts when it says that a courier for bin Laden, who was killed in annex to bin Laden’s compound, was shot before he opened fire on the SEALs. In all previous accounts, the SEALs engaged in a brief firefight with the courier before taking him down.
The Commission report was ordered by the Pakistani government to figure out how the world’s most wanted man lived in their country for nearly a decade and how the U.S. managed to execute a covert raid in a major Pakistani city.