Osama bin Laden did not use one of his four wives as a human shield in his dying moments, contrary to earlier reports, as White House officials began to “clarify” early accounts of Monday’s commando raids by US special forces.
US officials had claimed that Bin Laden had been “firing behind” his wife when he was shot through the eye by a US Navy Seal, painting a powerful image of the world’s most wanted man cowering behind a defenceless woman.
In the original account of the firefight, John Brennan, a US counter-terrorism official briefing the media, said “There was family at that compound, and there was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield Osama from the incoming fire”.
However US officials have now conceded that Bin Laden was not armed during the assault, did not fire back and that his wife was only injured in the assault, most likely in the crossfire, according to unnamed officials quoted by the US website Politico.
“A different guy’s wife was killed”, said the website, quoting an unnamed official who had briefed US television media, with the official adding that Bin Laden’s wife was “injured not killed”, having been shot in the calf.
“Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up,” said the US official. “This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed.” The website also quoted another official saying “I’m not aware of him [Bin laden] having a weapon.”
The discrepancy between earlier accounts and the new version of events was put down to “confusion” by the White House, who said that the “fact pattern” on the assault was only now becoming clear as more of the participants were interviewed.
The contradictions came despite the fact that other reports suggesting that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state and other senior officials had watched the assault on a live feed provided by a camera mounted on the commando’s helmets.
The identity of the dead woman has not been made public, however officials quoted by the Reuters news agency added that she had been in a different part of the compound from bin Laden when he was killed.
Twenty-three children and nine women were in the compound at the time of the assault and were turned over to Pakistani authorities, added the US official who requested anonymity to discuss an intelligence matter.