Slain terror chief Osama bin Laden used his own wife as a human shield in an apparent attempt to save himself as elite troops stormed his Pakistani compound, US officials revealed Monday.
The world’s most wanted man was shot in the head when he refused to surrender to Navy SEALs.
The precision strike on his compound in Abbottabad, close to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, took less than 40 minutes, officials said, bringing an eight-month intelligence gathering operation to a dramatic climax.
Four others were killed in the complex, including a woman believed to be one of the al Qaida chief’s four wives. She was shot dead as she “shielded” him from attack, according to a top US counterterrorism official.
Special ops forces had arrived on board four helicopters at approximately 3:30pm ET Sunday (12:30am local time Monday). Less than 30 minutes later, at exactly 3:55pm ET, a Navy SEAL approached bin Laden and shot him dead, FOX News Channel reported.
Bin Laden — given the code name “Geronimo” by US officials — was found in the compound with one of his young wives, who identified him by name.
According to White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, the woman died as she shielded bin Laden.
Brennan said it was unclear whether she was attempting to protect the terrorist leader of her own free will, or whether he deliberately placed her in the line of fire. However, defense officials have confirmed that women were deliberately used as human shields to protect the compound’s male inhabitants.
Aside from bin Laden, three other military-age males — one of bin Laden’s adult sons and two couriers — were killed in the raid, along with bin Laden’s wife. Two other women were wounded. No Americans were harmed.
Senior US military and intelligence officials said bin Laden “did resist” as the SEALs engaged him in the firefight. He was killed with a “head shot,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
The raid was monitored in real time by President Barack Obama and other US national security officials from the White House Situation Room. Brennan described the scene in the room as “probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled here.”
“The minutes passed like days,” Brennan said.
Asked how Obama reacted when he received the news that bin Laden had been killed, Brennan recalled that the president said, “We got him.”
Speaking at the daily White House press briefing, Brennan said he believed Obama had made “one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory” in deciding to authorize the raid. Brennan said that while officials had great confidence in the intelligence received ahead of the operation, “there was nothing to confirm that bin Laden was at that compound.”
The counterterrorism adviser, who would not reveal whether photographs of bin Laden’s body would be released, also said he believed it was “inconceivable” that bin Laden did not have a support system within Pakistan that had allowed him to remain in the country for an extended period of time.
Brennan stopped short of saying whether the US believed the terrorist leader had received support on an “official basis,” and he praised Pakistan for its counterterrorism efforts. Still, he said the characteristics of the compound “raise questions” about why it had not alerted authorities.
Authorities told The Journal that they believe the compound, located 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Islamabad, was constructed in 2005 to house bin Laden, but it is unclear when he moved in. The compound is about eight times larger than other homes in the area and had security measures including 12-foot-high (3.7-meter-high) barbed wire fences and restricted access. The property was valued at about $1 million, but it had no telephone or internet access.
US officials said Bin Laden had been “living rather comfortably” in the one-acre (0.4 hectare) compound, FOX reported. The bin Laden family had been occupying the second and third floor of the property’s main house.
The US officials said those who took part in the unilateral operation, commanded by the CIA with the Navy SEALs on loan to the Agency, compared bin Laden’s appearance to photos of him and were 95 percent certain the terrorist leader had been killed, FOX reported. DNA analysis completed Monday morning compared bin Laden’s DNA to that of his family members and gave a virtual 100 percent match, the officials added.
The officials said a volume of materials was confiscated from the compound and will be exploited and analyzed at CIA headquarters. A source told FOX that the materials included electronics and hard drives.
Brennan said the US had been planning for the possibility that bin Laden could survive the raid. He said Obama “put a premium” on ensuring US personnel would be able to conduct the mission safely but added, “If we had the opportunity to take him alive, we would have done that.”