On Whether Bin Laden Was Armed, Here's What Officials Said

May 4, 2011
Originally published on May 4, 2011 8:29 am

In the first few hours after the world learned that U.S. forces had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, most news reports said he had been involved in the firefight at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and at least implied that he was armed when he died.

And it was said that a woman on the scene had been used as a human shield.

By Monday evening, as more details emerged, it was being reported (including by The Two-Way) that bin Laden likely did not fire a weapon in the last moments of his life and that the woman who was killed likely was not a human shield and died in crossfire.

Now seems like a good time to go through the transcripts to see just what has been said:

-- Sunday, 11:35 p.m. ET: President Obama addresses the nation and says "Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation. ... A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

-- Monday, 12:03 a.m. ET: "Senior administration officials" brief reporters. One says that bin Laden "did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight." He also says that "one woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant."

-- Monday, 2 p.m. ET: John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, tells reporters that bin Laden "was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don't know." Brennan also says "there was a female who was in fact in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield bin Laden from the incoming fire."

-- Tuesday, 1:57 p.m. ET: White House spokesman Jay Carney, during his daily briefing, says "there was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture operation — operation rather, and, indeed, he did resist. In the room with bin Laden, a woman — bin Laden's — a woman, rather, bin Laden's wife, rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed."

Asked about what type of resistance bin Laden put up, Carney says "resistance does not require a firearm. But the information I gave you is what I can tell you about it."

After another question on the topic, Carney says "it was a highly volatile firefight. I'll point you to the Department of Defense for more details about it, but it was a — he resisted. The U.S. personnel on the ground handled themselves with the utmost professionalism and he was killed in an operation because of the resistance that they met."

The New York Times writes this morning that Carney "and other officials reiterated that this was a violent scene, that there was heavy fire from others in the house, and that the commandos did not know whether the occupants were wearing suicide belts or other explosives."

And Fox News reports it has been told by a "senior U.S. official" that bin Laden "appeared to be reaching for a weapon before being shot."

The National Journal says it has been told by officials with knowledge of the situation that the Obama administration preferred that the mission end with bin Laden's death, but that if he had indicated he wished to surrender he would have been taken into custody.

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