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Bin Laden not armed during US raid

Osama bin Laden was not armed when a U.S. Navy SEAL raiding party confronted him during an assault on his compound in Pakistan, the White House says.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Osama bin Laden was not armed when a U.S. Navy SEAL raiding party confronted him during an assault on his compound in Pakistan, the White House said Tuesday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that bin Laden did not have a weapon even though administration officials have said that bin Laden resisted during the 40-minute raid. Bin Laden was shot in the head and in the chest during the encounter, Carney said.

Carney said bin Laden's wife "rushed the U.S. assaulter" and was shot in the leg but not killed, contrary to what a White House official said on Monday, when reports said bin Laden used her as a shield. 

Carney declined to offer further details on bin Laden's behavior during the raid. Resistance did not require a firearm, he said.

He said the decision to kill rather than capture bin Laden was made by forces on the ground, not by the White House, which earlier authorized the rehearsed raid that included contingencies for, but no expectations of, capture.

CIA Chief Leon Panetta, later Tuesday told NBC News, "The authorities we have on Bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed."

U.S. forces faced a firefight throughout the raid, Carney said at the briefing.

"We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance. There were many other people who were armed in the compound," Carney said.

There had been conflicting information about the circumstances under which the al-Qaida leader was killed. Some reports said that bin Laden was armed and that the woman was used as a human shield.

Describing the raid, Carney said two other families lived in the bin Laden compound in the outskirts of Abbottabad, some 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. One family lived on the first floor of the bin Laden building and one family in a second building. One team began the operation on the first floor of the bin Laden house and worked their way to the third floor; a second team cleared the separate building.

Carney said Navy SEALs encountered two al-Qaida couriers on the first floor of the compound building holding bin Laden and his family. A woman caught in crossfire there died, he said.

Bin Laden and his family were on the building's third floor.

"There was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he resisted," Carney said, reading from a White House narrative obtained by NBC News.

After the firefight, Carney said, noncombatants were moved "to a safe location" as a damaged U.S. helicopter, one of two that landed at the compound, was destroyed.

Earlier reports also noted that as Navy Seals swept through bin Laden's massive compound, they handcuffed those they encountered with plastic zip ties as they continued to pursue their target, code-named Geronimo.

In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons, Khalid, was killed in the raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden's wife was shot in the calf but survived, a U.S. official said Monday. Also killed were bin Laden's trusted personal courier Sheikh Abu Ahmed and his brother, both earlier identified as two of bin Laden's al-Qaida facilitators, and an unidentified woman.

Twenty-three children and nine women were in the compound at the time of the assault and were turned over to Pakistani authorities, said a U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss an intelligence matter. The SEAL team believes Bin Laden had lived at the compound for six years, the official said.

The BBC reported that the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, released raid details that differed from White House version.

Among them:

  • There were 17-18 people in the compound at the time of the attack.
  • Americans took away one person still alive, possibly a Bin Laden son.
  • Those who survived the attack included a wife, a daughter and eight to nine other children, not apparently Bin Laden's; all had their hands tied by the Americans.
  • A surviving Yemeni wife said they had moved to the compound a few months ago.
  • Bin Laden's daughter, aged 12 or 13, saw her father shot.

U.S. officials deny taking a prisoner, stating "the only person who left the compound besides the U.S. forces was Osama Bin Laden's body."

The Pakistani agency also told the BBC, "U.S. helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain."

An ISI official told the BBC the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad was raided several years ago but "was not on our radar" since then.

Carney on Tuesday also offered more details about bin Laden's burial at sea:

  • Aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the burial of bin Laden was done in conformance with Islamic precepts and practices.
  • The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet.
  • The body was placed in a weighted bag; a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker.
  • After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, and the deceased body eased into the sea.

Carney also said the photograph of bin Laden dead is "gruesome" and "it could be inflammatory" if released.

The White House is mulling whether to make the photo public, but he said officials are concerned about the "sensitivity" of doing so. Carney said there is a discussion internally about the most appropriate way to handle the photo, but "there is not some roiling debate here about this."

Asked if President Barack Obama is involved in the photo discussion, Carney said the president was involved in every aspect of this issue.