US admits al-Qaida chief unarmed when shot dead | Inquirer News

US admits al-Qaida chief unarmed when shot dead

WASHINGTON—A US commando’s curt message to superiors signaled the end had come for the world’s most wanted terrorist: “Geronimo EKIA,” meaning enemy killed in action.

Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who liked to pose with a menacing AK-47 assault rifle in his hand or by his side, was discovered without a gun by the Navy SEALs who barged into his room and shot him dead early Monday in Pakistan.


The White House on Tuesday gave a more complete picture of the assault—and corrected some key details from earlier official accounts—as the team that pulled off the storied raid briefed officials and rested back at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

The administration possesses graphic images of Bin Laden’s corpse, at least one of which is likely to be released, according to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta. Officials hope that doing so would quiet any doubts that Bin Laden is indeed dead. The worry is that anti-US sentiment would be inflamed as a result.


US Rep. Peter King of New York, among the lawmakers who had the images described to them, played down that concern.

“They’re not going to scare people off,” he said. “Nothing more than you’d expect with a person with a bullet in his head.”

Codenamed Geronimo after the Apache Indian fighter of the late 1800s, Bin Laden was buried at sea from a US Navy ship scant hours after his death.

<strong>Split-second action</strong>

White House officials initially suggested Bin Laden had been holding a gun and perhaps firing at US forces. The corrected account raised questions about whether the Americans ever planned to take him alive, or simply were out to kill him.

Panetta told “PBS NewsHour” that Bin Laden “made some threatening moves” that “represented a clear threat to our guys” but was not more specific about what the unarmed terrorist did as the commandos engaged others at the compound in a firefight and burst into their prey’s room.

“I don’t think he had a lot of time to say anything,” Panetta said. “It was a firefight going up that compound. … This was all split-second action on the part of the SEALs.”


Panetta underscored that Obama had given permission to kill the terrorist leader: “The authority here was to kill Bin Laden,” he said. “And obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn’t appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.”

After they shot him in the head and chest, the SEAL team in just minutes quickly swept Bin Laden’s compound for useful intelligence, making off with a cache of computer equipment and documents. The CIA was hurriedly setting up a task force to review the material from the highest level of al-Qaida’s leadership.

<strong>The fog of war</strong>

The revised account of Bin Laden’s final moments was one of many official details that have changed since he was killed in the nighttime raid in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. The White House misidentified which of Bin Laden’s sons was killed—it was Khalid, not Hamza. Officials incorrectly said Bin Laden’s wife died in gunfire while serving as his human shield. That actually was the wife of a Bin Laden aide, and she was just caught in crossfire, the White House said on Tuesday.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attributed those discrepancies to the fog of war, saying the information was coming in bit by bit and was still being reviewed. Nevertheless, the contradictory statements may raise suspicions about the White House’s version of events, given that no independent account from another source is likely to emerge. The only non-US witnesses to survive the raid are in Pakistani custody.

Five people were killed in the raid, officials said: Bin Laden; his son; his most trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti; and al-Kuwaiti’s wife and brother. The latest White House account leaves open the question of whether there was any gunfire from Bin Laden’s defenders in his room before the commandos shot him.

<strong>Obama to visit Ground Zero</strong>

President Barack Obama prepared to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center towers in New York City on Thursday to mark the end to one of history’s most intense manhunts and to remember anew the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the hands of Bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization.

<strong>Dead or alive</strong>

For the long-term legacy of the most successful counterterrorism operation in US history, the fact that Bin Laden was unarmed is unlikely to matter much to the Americans he declared war against. President George W. Bush famously said he wanted Bin Laden “dead or alive,” and the CIA’s top counterterrorism official once promised to bring Bin Laden’s head back on a stake.

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TAGS: Acts of terror, alQueda, Military
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