The family of Osama bin Laden has spoken out for the first time about what it was like to watch the 9/11 mastermind and al-Qaeda terrorist die in a hail of US military gunfire.
Amal bin Laden, the fourth and youngest wife of the man who was at the top of the US’s most wanted list for over a decade, has recounted the story of the night he died at the hands of SEAL special forces.
She and their six children lived in their ‘safe house’ in the mountains of Abbottabad in Pakistan when bin Ladin was killed on May 11, 2011.
Amal bin Laden told the story of the night to Cathy Scott-Clarke and Adrian Levy for their book The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, which has been excerpted in the Sunday Times UK.
Along with Amal bin Laden and her children, also living in the house was bin Laden’s second wife Khairiah and third wife Seham and son Khalid, 22.
First wife Najwa had married him as a teen and bore him 11 children, but left him two days before the 9/11 attacks.
By 11pm on May 1, 2011, after dinner, the dishes, and prayer, bin Laden was fast asleep while his fourth wife lie next to him.
Outside, the streets were dark due to an electricity shortage, something that was a common occurrence in the area, but Amal awoke uneasily just past midnight.
She heard a chop chop chop sound and thought she saw shadows dancing on the windows.
Bin Laden sat up, looking frightened.
‘Americans are coming,’ he said, panting. Then there was a loud screeching noise and the house rocked.
The white compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden met his end by American special forces
The pair clutched at each other and crept to the balcony.
‘It was a moonless night and difficult to see,’Amal said.
On the lawn, out of their sight, were two US military Black Hawks, and 24 SEALs were stealthily rushing over the lawn and towards the compound.
Up on the second floor balcony, Seham and Khalid could see the Americans approaching.
Bin Laden called to his son to come to him and, still in his pajamas, Khalid grabbed an AK-47, which Amal knew he hadn’t fired since he was 13.
Amal and Seham comforted the children, who were crying. They all went to the top floor and huddled.
They heard a blast as the SEALs blew off the gate to the house.
‘They want me, not you,’ bin Laden finally said, telling his family to go downstairs. But oldest daughters Miriam and Sumaiya hid on the balcony while Seham and son Khalid went downstairs.
Upstairs, Amal, bin Laden and their young son Hussein remained in the room and prayed. Amal said she realized someone within their inner circle had betrayed them.
The SEALs were now in a hallway and blasted a locked door before heading upwards.
One of the forces members, who spoke Arabic and knew what Khalid looked like, called to him, and when Khalid glanced over the balcony, he was shot.
Sumaiya and Miriam rushed the SEALs but they were quickly flicked against a wall by the Arabic-speaking man.
SEAL Robert O’Neill walked past them and entered the room. Amal was in front of her husband. She rushed O’Neill and was shot by someone as other SEALs entered the room.
Amal felt pain tear through her leg and she collapsed onto the bed and passed out.
O’Neill would later describe shooting bin Laden, and thinking ‘He’s going down’.
More SEALS crashed into the room and fired rounds into bin Laden.
Meanwhile, Amal said she awoke but knew she had to play dead. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing.
Little Hussein, who had witnessed everything, was grabbed by a SEAL, and water was thrown in his face, according to Amal.
She remained motionless as Miram and Sumaiya were grabbed by the forces and held over the bodies of their father, and voices demanded that they make an identification.
At first Miriam gave a fake name, but Sumaiya said ‘Tell them the truth, they are not Pakastanis’.
‘My father,’ Miriam said. ‘Osama bin Laden.’
Safiyah, then 11, was hiding on the balcony when he was also grabbed by a SEAL and told to make an identification. Safiyah was crying hysterically but told the men it was her father.
Khairiah, who was in the hallway, was also grabbed by a SEAL. ‘Stop f***ing with me,’ the SEAL yelled, according to the account. ‘Who’s that?’
‘Osama,’ she murmured.
‘Hey, dual confirmation,’ the Arabic-speaking SEAL said. ‘Confirmed it with the kid. Confirmed it with the old lady.’
The special forces then dragged bin Laden down the stairs, leaving his head to bump along them.
Khalid was dead on the staircase, and his mother tried to kiss him, but she was pulled away.
The SEALs put the terrorist’s body in one helicopter.
Back in the room, Amal clutched the trembling young Hussein and listened to the American military men blow up the remaining Black Hawk.
A few minutes later, she heard the screaming of neighbors as they asked who was still alive