The former US Navy Seal who claims to have killed Osama bin Laden has delivered his dramatic account of the moment that he said he pumped three bullets into the al-Qaeda terror chief.
“We met for a second, that’s it,” said Rob O’Neill. “I was standing above him when he took his last breath and I heard it audibly”.
Mr O’Neill told Fox News that it was "just luck" that he ended up as the man to pull the trigger when fellow commandos peeled off to search other rooms during the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistani compound.
He was confronted by America’s most wanted man after he made his way up the stairs to the third floor of the lair, he said.
“Standing two feet in front of me with his hands on his wife’s shoulder was the face I had seen a thousand times – Osama bin Laden,” he said.
"Very quickly I recognised him and then it was just ‘pop, pop, pop’. In the face. Three times.
“I just walked in, saw him, shot him. Two shots very quick, the third shot as he was laying on the floor.”
Mr O’Neill’s claims have whipped up a firestorm of controversy and a backlash from former brothers-in-arms who dispute his version of events, his decision to break their code of silence to go public and his revelation of special forces tactics.
In accounts given to other US media outlets, fellow Seals on the raid have said that the fatal shot was fired by an unidentified “point man” up the stairs from the second floor when bin Laden peeked out of his bedroom.
But the Montana native insisted that there was no doubt about his recollections. “Absolutely, 100 per cent,” he told interviewer Peter Doocy when asked whether he was the last person to see the terror leader alive.
He also dismissed the contradictory claim in a book by another Seal, Mark Bissonette, that he finished off the injured bin Laden. “War is foggy,” Mr O’Neill said. “The author is telling the story as he saw it, and based on the debrief that he heard. The debrief was cleaned up, but missing a few details. I can just speak on what I saw.”
The ex-Seal, who now makes a living as a well-paid motivational speaker drawing on lessons from his 16 years in the elite unit, described the team’s harrowing helicopter rides into and out of Pakistan from Afghanistan and the potentially disastrous episode when one of the two aircraft crash-landed at the compound.
After completing the raid, the Seals still had to make it back to a US base in Afghanistan without being shot down after a firefight that meant their mission was no longer clandestine.
"80-something minutes into it, somebody came over the radio to everybody and said, 'Alright gentleman for the first time in your lives you’re going to be happy to hear this…welcome to Afghanistan,’” he said.
“And everyone was like; oh my God…we just did it. We just pulled it off and we got him. And we all lived. We’re all fine. It was insane. So then, there was high-fiving and stuff. Guys were, cause I mean, we got Osama bin Laden and we’re going to live…amazing."
The earlier flight into Pakistan was just as tense, he noted, saying: “I wondered what it’s like to be shot out of the sky.”
He said that the pilot of the helicopter that crash-landed saved the lives of everyone on board by putting the machine down “nose into the dirt”.
With a swaggering bravado, he described the moment that he emerged from the other helicopter and looked up at the building that they were about to storm. “I’m looking at Osama bin Laden’s house and thinking ‘this is so cool’.”
Inside the house, fellow Seals shot dead a bin Laden aide and his wife after coming under fire. They then blew apart a steel door to the staircase up to the second floor where they encountered and killed bin Laden’s son, Khalid.
The lay-out was just as they had been briefed by the female CIA analyst whose role was played by actress Jessica Chastain in the film Zero Dark Thirty. Her intelligence was “spot on”, he said.
On the second floor, the other Seals were clearing the rooms, leaving just the point-man and Mr O’Neill to head up to the third floor, he said.
After they climbed the stairs, his comrade rushed two women behind a curtain, throwing himself on top of them, believing that he would be sacrificing his own life as they were presumed, wrongly, to be wearing suicide bomb jackets.
That left Mr O’Neill alone to face and kill bin Laden, according to his account. He said that he acted within military rules as the al-Qaeda chief was also presumed – and also wrongly - to be wearing a suicide vest and had not surrendered. “It was a kill-capture,” he said. “I think everyone wanted that.”
The message “Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo, EKIA” was relayed back over the radio from the commanding officer on the ground to military chiefs in the US. Geronimo was the code name for bin Laden and EKIA was the acronym for “enemy killed in action”.
The Seals then embarked on the next stage of their mission – to gather up every piece of potential evidence they could find, “everything from opium to hard drives”, he said.
They also had the body of bin Laden to take with them. Mr O’Neill said he was one of the four men who carried the corpse out in a body bag to the grounds where one of them jabbed a syringe into his leg to collect his DNA for proof that the dead man was indeed the al-Qaeda chief.
After the flight back to Afghanistan, the euphoria kicked in, he said. There he gave the ammunition magazine from the kill as a memento to the female CIA agent who had played such a crucial role in persuading her bosses that bin Laden was indeed holed up in the compound.
And it was there, as he stood next to the body of bin Laden, that he watched as President Barack Obama announced live on television to the world that a US team had killed America’s public enemy number one. “I heard him saying Osama bin Laden and I looked at Osama bin Laden,” he said.
Mr O’Neill had earlier described the Seals’ belief that the trip was going to be a “suicide mission” as they were certain that they would die in the operation to kill bin Laden.
But despite the risks, he said none of them hoped that Mr Obama would choose another tactic to try to take out bin Laden. Describing their feelings, he said: “We are going to die eventually, this is a good way to go and it's worth it to kill him. He's going to die with us."
"To be part of something so historic, you can't ask for more...we wanted it bad," he said. "It doesn’t get any better. This is it this is why we're here. We are at war because of this guy and now we are going to go get him."