WASHINGTON (AFP) - A former US Navy Seal who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and once rescued a ship captain from Somali pirates revealed himself Thursday as the man who killed Osama Bin Laden.
Robert O'Neill, 38, told The Washington Post that he fired the fatal shot that hit the Al-Qaeda leader in the forehead at his hideout in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad in May 2011.
The former commando told the Post he decided to come forward ahead of planned media appearances next week when his identity was disclosed by SOFREP, a website operated by former Seals.
SOFREP's revelation was in protest at O'Neill's decision to reveal his role in the mission.
The highly decorated Montana native told the Post that he was near the head of the column of US soldiers that raided bin Laden's compound, adding that at least two other Seals fired shots.
The newspaper said two Seal team members had corroborated his identity.
O'Neill is set to appear in a documentary on the Fox network next week.
At Bin Laden's compound, O'Neill was located in the number two position for the attack on the Al-Qaeda leader's bedroom.
Bin Laden briefly appeared at the door but the Seal in front of O'Neill apparently missed his shot.
"I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway," O'Neill said. "There was Bin Laden, standing there. He had his hands on a woman's shoulders, pushing her ahead."
O'Neill said he could clearly identify Bin Laden through his night-vision scope, despite the darkness of the room - and he fired.
The onetime Seal said it was clear that Bin Laden was dead as his skull was split.
The Post said O'Neill had long agonised over whether to go public but finally decided to so after concerns that others would leak his identity, which was already known in military circles, by members of Congress and at least two news organisations.
He finally decided to come forward after meeting with relatives of victims of the Sept 11, 2011 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
O'Neill said he decided on the spot to speak about Bin Laden.
"The families told me it helped bring them some closure," O'Neill told the Post.
But his decision has been met with anger from some of his Seal colleagues.
In an Oct 31 letter to the Naval Special Warfare Command ranks, Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci and Rear-Admiral Brian Losey stressed that a "critical tenet" of the force was to "not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my action."
O'Neill had already served nearly 15 years as a Seal by the time of the raid on Bin Laden's compound, and was serving in the elite Seal Team Six unit.
In 2009, he served on a mission to rescue a ship captain from pirates off the coast of Somalia. The story was turned into a film starring Tom Hanks as the captain, Richard Phillips.