So Who Actually Killed Osama Bin Laden?

Controversy renewed as second SEAL on historic mission steps forward.

ByABC News
November 6, 2014, 3:10 PM

— -- Three and a half years after American bullets felled Osama bin Laden, controversy has been reignited over who actually pulled the trigger that fateful night now that the Navy SEAL who claims to have personally killed the al Qaeda leader has been publicly identified.

The special operations news website reported Monday that Robert O’Neill is the name of the former SEAL Team Six member who was identified only as “the Shooter” in an Esquire magazine article last year titled “The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden… Is Screwed.” Wednesday international publications reported the name as well, and today The Washington Post published an interview with O’Neill in which he describes the terror leader’s purported final moments. Two special operations sources previously identified O’Neill as “the Shooter” to ABC News.

Despite the definitiveness of the Esquire magazine article title, there are lingering questions over whether O’Neill was the man who actually killed bin Laden, as his account differs markedly from that of Mark Owen, the pseudonymous former SEAL Team Six member who wrote the book “No Easy Day” about the bin Laden raid in 2012.

In the Esquire article, O’Neill claims he and another SEAL, the "point man," were alone on the stairs heading up to the third floor of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Before they reached the third floor, the point man saw a man poke his head out of the bedroom doorway on the third floor so the point man unleashed a few shots in his direction. The shots missed, however, and when the pair reached the third floor, the point man peeled off to tackle two women who were in the hallway -- a move meant to protect his teammates from possible suicide bombs. O’Neill, then, was the first to enter the bedroom where he came face-to-face with bin Laden, standing just inches away, and was the one who shot him three times in the head before he could get to a nearby AK-47.

In Owen's account, Owen, the point man and a third SEAL -- since identified as Esquire's "the Shooter” and therefore O’Neill -- all went up to the third floor together after the point man's shots from the stairway. But when they entered bin Laden's room together, they found the al Qaeda leader already down and bleeding from the head. The point man's earlier shots had apparently connected.

The two women were inside the bedroom when the point man, having deemed the downed bin Laden was not a threat, tackled them into the corner. Owen and O’Neill then fired a few more bullets into bin Laden's dying body. Only later did the SEALs realize who they had killed, Owen said.

Clouding the events further is another account written by "Black Hawk Down" author Mark Bowden called "The Finish" based on interviews with higher-level military officials up the chain of command all the way to President Obama. In that account, three SEALs ascended the steps together but bin Laden was alive and standing in the bedroom when the point man entered. The point man tackled the two women in the room and the second SEAL through the door, who Bowden did not identify, was the one that shot bin Laden first in the chest and then in the head.

Bowden's book, which was still in press when "No Easy Day" hit bookshelves, later carried an insert deferring to Owen's version of events.