‘I killed him’: US Navy Seal who fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden breaks his silence
TIM WALKER MONDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2013
His actions were praised by Barack Obama, and considered by many to be the key foreign policy achievement of the US President’s first term. Yet the former US Navy Seal who killed Osama bin Laden has revealed that, after leaving the military, he has been left without a pension or health insurance and is struggling financially.
The special forces operative, named only as “the shooter”, has provided some of the most detailed testimony about the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May 2011, as well as outlining the difficulties of his return to civilian life after the mission.
Having joined the US Navy in the 1990s at the age of 19, the shooter said he had taken part in hundreds of combat missions with its Sea, Air, Land (Seal) teams and killed more than 30 enemy fighters. When Seal Team Six was chosen for the Bin Laden mission, he requested to be part of the assault group that would enter the house.< /p>
As the team worked its way through the building, many of its members peeled off to search the rooms. Only the shooter was left behind the “point man” by the time they reached the top floor where Bin Laden was hiding. “I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway,” he told Esquire magazine. “There was bin Laden standing there … He’s got a gun on a shelf right there, the short [Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle] he’s famous for.”
The shooter then describes Bin Laden moving towards the weapon. “He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat … In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled on to the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! Same place … He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath. And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done?”
Before the Abbottabad raid, the female CIA analyst responsible for identifying the al-Qa’ida leader’s hideout asked the shooter why he seemed so calm. “I told her, ‘we do this every night. We go to a house, we f*** with some people, and we leave’.” He later gave the woman the magazine from the rifle he used to shoot Bin Laden, as a souvenir.
The shooter left the Navy in September 2012 after 16 years in the special forces, and says he now suffers from numerous medical complaints as a result of his exploits. He says he chose to retire because he feared he would not live to see his children grow up “and I realised that when I stopped getting an adrenaline rush from gunfights, it was time to go”.
Had he fulfilled the official retirement of 20 years’ service, he would qualify for a pension. But because he left early, he lost all of his $60,000 annual salary, as well as health insurance for himself and his family. He now pays almost $500 a month for private insurance, and more for the costs that remain uncovered.
The Urban Institute, a US think tank, estimates that about one in 10 military veterans have no basic health insurance, and their elite status does not afford the Seals any special treatment when they retire.
The members of Seal Team Six are also hampered by its policy of confidentiality, which leaves them unable to capitalise on their achievements when finding jobs in civilian life.
The shooter’s uncle reportedly tried to get him work as a consultant with Electronic Arts, the games developer behind the Medal of Honor series, but was not able to identify him as Bin Laden’s killer because of the codes of conduct and secrecy the special forces are expected to follow.
“He’s taken monumental risks,” the shooter’s father told Esquire. “But he’s unable to reap any reward.”
One of the men on the Bin Laden mission has benefited financially from that distinction, but at the cost of his anonymity. Matt Bissonnette wrote a best-selling account of the raid, No Easy Day. Yet despite writing under a pseudonym, he was named on a jihadi website soon after publication.
Fearful of retaliation for his part in the raid, the shooter has taught his children to hide in the bath if their house comes under attack, and trained his wife to fire a shotgun. The family has a “bolt” bag filled with necessities should they be forced into hiding at short notice.
Their marriage became so strained by the shooter’s work that he and his wife are, in fact, separated – though they still live under the same roof to save money.
‘I could see his brains spilling out..I watched him take his last breath’: Navy SEAL describes moment he shot bin Laden three times in head before zip-tying his screaming wife to her bed
Doctor who helped catch Osama refused US move
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
Thursday, 31 May 2012
The controversy over the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA trace Osama bin Laden and was subsequently jailed for 33 years took a new twist when it was claimed that the physician had turned down the chance to relocate to the US.
It also emerged the doctor was convicted last week of alleged links to militants, rather than for treason for assisting the CIA.
Two US officials said that shortly before last year’s raid by US special forces in the town of Abottabad, Dr Shakil Afridi and his family were offered the chance to leave Pakistan but declined. A few weeks after the raid, the doctor was arrested by the Pakistani authorities and was last week jailed for 33 years.
Before he was arrested, Dr Afridi was offered opportunities to leave Pakistan with his family but he turned those down, one of the US officials said.
“Some may question why he did this but no one could have foreseen that Pakistan would punish so severely someone whose work benefited the country so much,” the official said.
Bin Laden Dead, President Obama Says
Osama bin Laden dead: bin Laden lived next door to senior Pakistan Army major
Osama bin Laden’s compound was next door to a senior serving Pakistan Army major, neighbours close to the late al-Qaeda’s leader’s secret hideout said last night.
By Dean Nelson, Abbottabad 9:00PM BST 03 May 2011
Major Amir Aziz, a 45-year-old officer serving as a commander in the Army Medical Corps, lives barely 80 yards from the compound where the world’s most wanted terrorist leader evaded an American-led manhunt for up to five years.
He was unavailable at his Doric columned high-security mansion on Tuesday in Thanda Choha or ‘cool pond’ village in Abbottabad yesterday. But an Urdu name plaque on the door confirmed the owner’s title and villagers, including policemen, said Major Aziz was a serving soldier heading a non-combat unit.
The disclosure came amid growing suspicion that some sections of Pakistan’s powerful security services may have helped him hide in the shadow of its Military Academy at Kakul, one of the country’s highest security garrison towns.
Lieutenant-General Talat Masood, a retired senior officer and close supporter of Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani, said he believed some elements of its security establishment had colluded to protect Osama bin Laden. “I would think it’s probably complicity at some level, otherwise it would be impossible,” he said.
“People in Pakistan want to know who is living next [door]. Someone must have been going in and coming out. I’m puzzled and ashamed,” he added.
His outspoken comments followed reports that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency had said it was embarrassed by its failure to detect bin Laden hiding in one of its highest security cantonments.
Neighbours who had witnessed the American air raid which killed bin Laden, his courier, son and one of his wives in the early hours of Monday morning, said they had not inquired closely about their secretive guest because of rumours that either drug dealers or smugglers were living there.
“There was a rumour these were black money, white powder people and with a rumour like that you don’t like to knock the door,” said steel contractor Hussein Jaffri, who watched the American helicopters hover 50 yards away over bin Laden’s compound during the raid.
The village’s children were not so timid. According to ice cream seller Tanvir Ahmed, boys who knocked on the heavy green security gates of the barbed-wire walled compound after hitting a cricket ball into its garden were told they couldn’t come in to look for it. “They were given money instead, 50 to 100 rupees for a ball worth 30 rupees,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Asra Amjad revealed that the face of global terror may have been a rabbit lover. She had seen one of the compound staff, a Pashtun man named Nadeem, collecting grass in nearby cannabis-fringed fields and asked him why. When he told her it was for his rabbits, she asked if she could have one. He later delivered two as a gift. There were two Pashtun brothers in their 30s, at least two women and three children, two boys of five and six and girl of four living with them.
One of the brothers, known to villagers as Nadeem, left the compound each day in a red Suzuki minivan and returned with a goat, fruit and vegetables. Villagers said there were two buffalo in the compound to provide milk.
One elderly woman said five months earlier Nadeem had taken her to a local clinic in the minivan.
Others however complained that security men at the compound had emerged to warn them to leave if they leant against its 15 feet high walls.
Another villager said an elderly neighbour had complained he had been moved on several occasions after compound staff had seen him on security cameras smoking cannabis just beyond the walls.
The local land registrar, said the plot had been bought in 2005 by a Arshad Khan, a Pashtun from Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for around $100,000 and building had begun soon after. It had been bought from several villagers. Labourers told them their new neighbours had built underground chambers in the basement, while the building became known as the ‘Waziristan Haveli’ because of the association between Pashtuns and militant Islam.
None however could believe Osama bin Laden had lived among them. Retired teacher Aslam Khan, 71, “The best thing is that the picture should be made public. Seeing is believing,” he said
From the Washington Post:
As a New Yorker who witnessed the attacks without any filters, thank you Mr. President and those armed forces mermbers for finally taking out the trash.
Today 5/2/2011 12:24:48 AM EDT
The military takes orders from the President. He could have declined to launch the mission.So yes, thank you Obama as well, for having the courage to see this mission through. And many thanks to the military and intelligence officials who carried out the mission.
Today 5/2/2011 12:43:57 AM EDT
Our President is the Commander of ALL Arm Forces and he deserves credit!!!
Today 5/2/2011 12:44:14 AM EDT
In other news, Republicans demand to see a long-form Death Certificate.
Today 5/2/2011 12:10:10 AM EDT
Well done, Mr. President. You and your national security apparatus accomplished this task without the cowboy fanfare of the previous President or the wasteful spending of America’s blood and treasure. You promised that “if we have actionable intelligence, we will take ‘em out!”
Now I know the GOP will scream sour grapes (Mitch, Rudy, Shotgun Dick, and the other cabal); however, they did not do anything other than profit from the fear factor they instilled into the Amercian psyche post 9/11.
Today 5/2/2011 12:19:23 AM EDT
^Hahahahaha! Excellent…and thank you.
Today 5/2/2011 12:23:54 AM EDT
Funny how most of the posts are about congratulating or dragging down the president. Few are actually recognizing that the politicians had (and have had) very little to do with the actual hunt and hit – argue all you want but we are talking about shades of grey. This administration got the brass ring, and I know they are (and should be) happy about that but the reality is that the U.S. intelligence and military communities are the ones we should be congratulating. Many nights away from home have paid off for literally thousands working hard on our behalf.
Today 5/2/2011 12:30:52 AM EDT
I wonder if the birthers will now demand to see Osama’s death certificate, you know, just to be sure that Obama didn’t fake the whole thing.
Today 5/2/2011 12:23:47 AM EDT
I remember during the 2008 campaign when Obama said he would attack inside Pakistan if there was actionable intelligence on Al Qaeda leaders, he was criticized mercilessly by GOP commenters.
I knew then he was likely to get bin-Laden because he put in the efforts and resources.
Today 5/2/2011 12:23:04 AM EDT
And Bush said about getting Bin Laden, “It’s just not a priority for me.” Bin Laden didn’t escape by his wits, he was allowed to evade capture due to indifference on the part of the previous administration: the same indifference they had to the warnings they received about Bin Laden from the outgoing Clinton people. Glad to see that Obama delivered on his promise. And good work by the intelligence community and the military.
Today 5/2/2011 12:29:37 AM EDT
President Obama has sticked it to the right-wing crapp.
Well done, Mr. President.
Today 5/2/2011 12:24:05 AM EDT
One crucial difference between the Obama and Bush administrations’ hunt for Osama bin Laden was that the Bush administration sucked up to Musharref and the Pakistanis, tossing billions of dollars to bribe them to cooperate. As we’ve seen over the last few months, Obama essentially told the Pakistanis to go f themselves, and this operation, presuming it was done without consultation with Islamabad, is 180 degrees away from how we tried to curry favor with a weak government and a treacherous Pakistani intelligence service. Now tell me who bowed before foreign powers? It’s one thing to be courteous, and another to be courageous.
Today 5/2/2011 12:40:28 AM EDT
Excellent news! Well done, Mr. President.
To all those people who think our covert agencies have no business being there, who criticized Obama for saying he would operate within Pakistan if there was credible evidence, all those nay-sayers who wanted to bring our troops home before the job was done: you have been proved wrong.
Also, look where OBL was hiding. Abbottabad is deep inside Pakistan, only 40 miles from the capital. US forces were operating near the capital of Pakistan. Our “allies” the Pakistani generals have a lot of explaining to do.
Today 5/2/2011 12:27:04 AM EDT
Jackie Dear, tonight we celebrate the death of a terrorist religious fanatic who believed that church and state ought to be the same thing.
I’m surprised you don’t have something nice to say in his memory.
I have very many nice things to say:
Haul out all of our American flags and proclaim a day of Thanksgiving to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the True and Living God who did not allow this evil terrorist anymore time on earth.
Today 5/2/2011 1:07:31 AM EDT
Bush put this structure in place. Obama wanted to flee both Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush should be given lots of credit. As much as the libs want Obama to be the man…remember he was against the surge and said he’d leave the Afghans helpless.
Congrats to our troops and of course David Petraeus. It’s a good ending to an awful long and terrible story. I guess we’ll now find out if all those nukes Al Qaeda said they have planted will be as fraudulent as most of these types of claims. Anyway..well done. Usama didn’t escape justice. The wheels of Justice grind too slow sometimes but the wheels of justice grind sure.
Today 5/2/2011 1:08:59 AM EDT
“I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”—3/13/02
Today 5/2/2011 1:09:39 AM EDT
I am proud to be an American, living in the United States and lead by a true leader, President Barack Obama. George W. Bush had almost seven years to accomplish this task and failed. President Obama accomplished this task in little more than two years. And, I certainly salute the heroes involved in this operation, who risked their lives to kill the vermin known as Osama bin Laden. These members of our armed forces deserve medals for conduct above and beyond the call of duty. My gratitude to our fighting men and women is overwhelming. USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!
Today 5/2/2011 1:05:34 AM EDT
Great Job President Obama and Special Ops.
Today 5/2/2011 1:05:23 AM EDT
Today 5/2/2011 1:05:11 AM EDT
I wish this had happened on Thursday night late. The U.S. media wouldn’t have focused on the British stupid wedding, that the majority of U.S. citizens didn’t watch. Prince William and his bride had lived together and fornicated for years and she had the nerve to wear white. hehe
Now that Bid Laden is dead, my family and I will take a trip to Disneyland. LOL
Today 5/2/2011 1:04:21 AM EDT
Looks like its time for all the Faux News blowhards to apologize for calling Obama a muslim. I’m sure that Rush, O’Rielly, Beck, and the rest of the toadies will get right on it tomorrow morning.
Today 5/2/2011 1:03:59 AM EDT
This isn’t a partisan thing tonight. It’s all about America.
Today 5/2/2011 1:05:54 AM EDT
May. 2, 2011 12:46 AM ET
Obama: Al-Qaida head bin Laden dead
JULIE PACE, Associated Press
MATT APUZZO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Osama bin Laden, the glowering mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that murdered thousands of Americans, was killed in an operation led by the United States, President Barack Obama said Sunday.
“Justice has been done,” said the president in a dramatic late-night announcement at the White House.
A small team of Americans killed bin Laden in a firefight Sunday at a compound in Pakistan, the president said, and took custody of his remains. Americaj officials said they were being handled in accordance with Islamic tradition.
A jubilant crowd gathered outside the White House as word spread of bin Laden’s death after a global manhunt that lasted nearly a decade.
Former President George W. Bush, who was in office on the day of the attacks, issued a written statement hailing bin Laden’s death as a momentous achievement. “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” he said.
Obama said he ordered the operation after receiving undisclosed intelligence information. Senior administration officials said the terrorist mastermind was found inside a custom-built compound with two security gates. They said it appeared to hvae been constructed to harbor one high-value target and that for undisclosed reasons, officials became clear the hideout was bin Laden’s.
Officials also said they believe the death puts al-Qaida on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse, but there was no word on the whereabouts of nin Laden’s second-in-command, xxxxxx.
The stunning end to the world’s most widely-watched manhunt came just months before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, orchestrated by bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization, that killed more than 3,000 people.
The attacks a decade ago seemed to come out of nowhere, even though al-Qaida had previously damaged American targets overseas.
The terrorists hijacked planes, flew one of them into one of Manhattan’s Twin Towers — and, moments later, into the other one. Both buildings collapsed, trapping thousands inside and claiming the lives of firefighters and others who had rushed to help them.
A third plane slammed into the Pentagon, defacing the symbol of America’s military night. A fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers overpowered the hijackers and forced the craft from the air — before it could hit its intended target in Washington.
The attacks set off a chain of events that led the United States into wars in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and America’s entire intelligence apparatus was overhauled to counter the threat of more terror attacks at home.
A senior administration official says Obama gave the final order for U.S. officials to go after bin Laden on Friday. The official added that a small team found their quarry hiding in a large home in an affluent suburb of Islamabad. The raid occurred in the early morning hours Sunday.
Administration officials offered some details of the operation.
Based on statements given by U.S. detainees, intelligence officials have known for years that bin Laden trusted one al-Qaida courier in particular and they believed he might be living with him in hiding. In November, intelligence officials found out where he was living, a huge fortified compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad. It was surrounded by walls as high as 18 feet high, topped with barbed wire. There were two security gates and no phone or Internet running into the house.
Intelligence officials believed the $1 million home was custom-built to harbor a major terrorist. CIA experts analyzed whether it could be anyone else, but time and again, they decided it was almost certainly bin Laden.
Three adult males were also killed in Sunday’s raid, including one of bin Laden’s sons, whom officials did not name. One of bin Laden’s sons, Hamza, is a senior member of al-Qaida.
Obama spoke with Bush and former President Bill Clinton Sunday night to inform them of the developments.
Obama struck a less than boastful tone in his brief announcement, although he said the death of bin Laden was “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida.
“His death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al-Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant,” he added.
Moments after he spoke, American officials cautioned that the events could lead to heightened threats against the United States.
Officials said the U.S. would ensure that bin Laden’s body was handled in accordance with Islamic tradition.
What do racist the Teabagggers have to say about President Obama now?!?!
20 Minutes Ago
From the Kansas City Star:
i find it interesting that he was found in the capital city of pakistan. supposedly our staunch allied “friend” in the region. i would like to know how long he has lived in this place.
39 minutes ago
Reports are that his hiding place, a mansion with very high walls, specially built to hide him, was built 5 years ago!
No one in Pakistan noticed it I guess.
36 minutes ago
To be fair, the leadership 5 years ago was diddling around in Iraq.
24 minutes ago
in reply to DanBeyer
Well we had to “win the hearts and minds” remember? I dont think we should have gone in to Iraq until we found bin laden, but we would have had to deal with saddam sooner or later.
22 minutes ago
in reply to TomW65
Saddam would have been dealt with by his own,
Look at Egypt and Libya, sooner or later the PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE COUNTRY will solve THEIR OWN ISSUES.
20 minutes ago
in reply to JOCOsuperman
Yep, and EVENTUALLY the German people would have turned out Hitler, but we intervened anyway…and thank God we did…both times.
Hindsight can be instructive, but it can also be one of the last refuges of myopic people with a rich fantasy life.
8 minutes ago
in reply to TomW65
Saddam was shooting at our planes enforcing the no-fly zone. He didn’t have the WMD’s but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He invaded Kuwait and fired on Israel, and supported terror groups like Hamas. He needed to go sooner, not later. We should have took Saddam out when I was there in ’91. Every one I knew back then said it was a mistake and we’d just have to go back in 10 years and finish the job. It was 11 years, but we were right.
9 minutes ago
in reply to TomW65
Trump must be really pouting tonight.
First the birth certificate and now this
2 hours ago
Yeah, Obama just added ten inches on his wang, politically speaking.
2 hours ago
in reply to Raindogs
Nice that you can see the political advantage this brings (potentially) instead of celebrating that justice has finally been served…
1 hour ago
in reply to KC_ballboy
WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden ‘protected’ by Pakistani security
Pakistani security forces allegedly helped Osama bin Laden evade American troops for almost 10 years, according to secret US government files.
By Tim Ross 5:31PM BST 02 May 2011
American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) also allegedly smuggled al-Qaeda terrorists through airport security to help them avoid capture and sent a unit into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.
The claims, made in leaked US government files obtained by Wikileaks, will add to questions over Pakistan’s capacity to fight al-Qaeda.
Last year, David Cameron caused a diplomatic furore when he told Pakistan that it could not “look both ways” on terrorism. The Pakistani government issued a strongly-worded rebuttal.
But bin Laden was eventually tracked down and killed in compound located just a few hundred yards from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy in Abbotabad.
The raid by elite US troops was kept secret from the government of Pakistan. Only a tight circle within the Obama Administration knew of the operation.
In December 2009, the government of Tajikistan warned the United States that efforts to catch bin Laden were being thwarted by corrupt Pakistani spies.
According to a US diplomatic dispatch, General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, a senior Tajik counterterrorism official, told the Americans that “many” inside Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.
The document stated: “In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces.”
Intelligence gathered from detainees at Guantanamo Bay may also have made the Americans wary of sharing their operational plans with the Pakistani government.
One detainee, Saber Lal Melma, an Afghan whom the US described as a probable facilitator for al-Qaeda, allegedly worked with the ISID to help members flee Afghanistan after the American bombing began in October 2001.
His US military Guantanamo Bay detainee file, obtained by Wikileaks and seen by The Daily Telegraph, claims he allegedly passed the al-Qaeda Arabs to Pakistani security forces who then smuggled them across the border into Pakistan.
He was also overheard “bragging about a time when the ISID sent a military unit into Afghanistan, posing as civilians to fight along side the Taliban against US forces”.
He also allegedly detailed “ISID’s protection of Al-Qaida members at Pakistan airports. The ISID members diverted Al-Qaida members through unofficial channels to avoid detection from officials in search of terrorists,” the file claims.
Look at this map. Osama bin Laden was found just a drill sergeant’s bark away from the Pakistan Military Academy. His hideout is at point (A); the PMA – Pakistan’s equivalent of Sandhurst or West Point – is marked by the red dot in the bottom corner.
The death of Bin Laden
Robert Fisk: Was he betrayed? Of course. Pakistan knew Bin Laden’s hiding place all along
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
A middle-aged nonentity, a political failure outstripped by history – by the millions of Arabs demanding freedom and democracy in the Middle East – died in Pakistan yesterday. And then the world went mad.
Fresh from providing us with a copy of his birth certificate, the American President turned up in the middle of the night to provide us with a live-time death certificate for Osama bin Laden, killed in a town named after a major in the army of the old British Empire. A single shot to the head, we were told. But the body’s secret flight to Afghanistan, an equally secret burial at sea? The weird and creepy disposal of the body – no shrines, please – was almost as creepy as the man and his vicious organisation.
The Americans were drunk with joy. David Cameron thought it “a massive step forward”. India described it as a “victorious milestone”. “A resounding triumph,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu boasted. But after 3,000 American dead on 9/11, countless more in the Middle East, up to half a million Muslims dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and 10 years trying to find Bin Laden, pray let us have no more “resounding triumphs”. Revenge attacks? Perhaps they will come, by the little groupuscules in the West, who have no direct contact with al-Qa’ida. Be sure, someone is already dreaming up a “Brigade of the Martyr Osama bin Laden”. Maybe in Afghanistan, among the Taliban.
But the mass revolutions in the Arab world over the past four months mean that al-Qa’ida was already politically dead. Bin Laden told the world – indeed, he told me personally – that he wanted to destroy the pro-Western regimes in the Arab world, the dictatorships of the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis. He wanted to create a new Islamic Caliphate. But these past few months, millions of Arab Muslims rose up and were prepared for their own martyrdom – not for Islam but for freedom and liberty and democracy. Bin Laden didn’t get rid of the tyrants. The people did. And they didn’t want a caliph.
I met the man three times and have only one question left unasked: what did he think as he watched those revolutions unfold this year – under the flags of nations rather than Islam, Christians and Muslims together, the kind of people his own al-Qa’ida men were happy to butcher?
In his own eyes, his achievement was the creation of al-Qa’ida, the institution which had no card-carrying membership. You just woke up in the morning, wanted to be in al-Qa’ida – and you were. He was the founder. But he was never a hands-on warrior. There was no computer in his cave, no phone calls to set bombs off. While the Arab dictators ruled uncontested with our support, they largely avoided condemning American policy; only Bin Laden said these things. Arabs never wanted to fly planes into tall buildings, but they did admire a man who said what they wanted to say. But now, increasingly, they can say these things. They don’t need Bin Laden. He had become a nonentity.
But talking of caves, Bin Laden’s demise does bring Pakistan into grim focus. For months, President Ali Zardari has been telling us that Bin Laden was living in a cave in Afghanistan. Now it turns out he was living in a mansion in Pakistan. Betrayed? Of course he was. By the Pakistan military or the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence? Quite possibly both. Pakistan knew where he was.
Not only was Abbottabad the home of the country’s military college – the town was founded by Major James Abbott of the British Army in 1853 – but it is headquarters of Pakistan’s Northern Army Corps’ 2nd Division. Scarcely a year ago, I sought an interview with another “most wanted man” – the leader of the group believed responsible for the Mumbai massacres. I found him in the Pakistani city of Lahore – guarded by uniformed Pakistani policemen holding machine guns.
Of course, there is one more obvious question unanswered: couldn’t they have captured Bin Laden? Didn’t the CIA or the Navy Seals or the US Special Forces or whatever American outfit killed him have the means to throw a net over the tiger? “Justice,” Barack Obama called his death. In the old days, of course, “justice” meant due process, a court, a hearing, a defence, a trial. Like the sons of Saddam, Bin Laden was gunned down. Sure, he never wanted to be taken alive – and there were buckets of blood in the room in which he died.
But a court would have worried more people than Bin Laden. After all, he might have talked about his contacts with the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, or about his cosy meetings in Islamabad with Prince Turki, Saudi Arabia’s head of intelligence. Just as Saddam – who was tried for the murder of a mere 153 people rather than thousands of gassed Kurds – was hanged before he had the chance to tell us about the gas components that came from America, his friendship with Donald Rumsfeld, the US military assistance he received when he invaded Iran in 1980.
Oddly, he was not the “most wanted man” for the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. He gained his Wild West status by al-Qa’ida’s earlier attacks on the US embassies in Africa and the attack on the US barracks in Dhahran. He was always waiting for Cruise missiles – so was I when I met him. He had waited for death before, in the caves of Tora Bora in 2001 when his bodyguards refused to let him stand and fight and forced him to walk over the mountains to Pakistan. Some of his time he would spend in Karachi – he was obsessed with Karachi; he even, weirdly, gave me photographs of pro-Bin Laden graffiti on the walls of the former Pakistani capital and praised the city’s imams.
His relations with other Muslims were mysterious; when I met him in Afghanistan, he initially feared the Taliban, refusing to let me travel to Jalalabad at night from his training camp – he handed me over to his al-Qa’ida lieutenants to protect me on the journey next day. His followers hated all Shia Muslims as heretics and all dictators as infidels – though he was prepared to cooperate with Iraq’s ex-Baathists against the country’s American occupiers, and said so in an audiotape which the CIA typically ignored. He never praised Hamas and was scarcely worthy of their “holy warrior” definition yesterday which played – as usual – straight into Israel’s hands.
In the years after 2001, I maintained a faint indirect communication with Bin Laden, once meeting one of his trusted al-Qa’ida associates at a secret location in Pakistan. I wrote out a list of 12 questions, the first of which was obvious: what kind of victory could he claim when his actions resulted in the US occupation of two Muslim countries? There was no reply for weeks. Then one weekend, waiting to give a lecture in Saint Louis in the US, I was told that Al Jazeera had produced a new audiotape from Bin Laden. And one by one – without mentioning me – he answered my 12 questions. And yes, he wanted the Americans to come to the Muslim world – so he could destroy them.
When Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped, I wrote a long article in The Independent, pleading with Bin Laden to try to save his life. Pearl and his wife had looked after me when I was beaten on the Afghan border in 2001; he even gave me the contents of his contacts book. Much later, I was told that Bin Laden had read my report with sadness. But Pearl had already been murdered. Or so he said.
Yet Bin Laden’s own obsessions blighted even his family. One wife left him, two more appeared to have been killed in Sunday’s American attack. I met one of his sons, Omar, in Afghanistan with his father in 1994. He was a handsome little boy and I asked him if he was happy. He said “yes” in English. But last year, he published a book called Living Bin Laden and – recalling how his father killed his beloved dogs in a chemical warfare experiment – described him as an “evil man”. In his book, he too remembered our meeting; and concluded that he should have told me that no, he was not a happy child.
By midday yesterday, I had three phone calls from Arabs, all certain that it was Bin Laden’s double who was killed by the Americans – just as I know many Iraqis who still believe that Saddam’s sons were not killed in 2003, nor Saddam really hanged. In due course, al-Qa’ida will tell us. Of course, if we are all wrong and it was a double, we’re going to be treated to yet another videotape from the real Bin Laden – and President Barack Obama will lose the next election.
Bin Laden Dead – Never Forget
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