The retired Navy SEAL who says he shot al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden in the forehead has publicly identified himself amid a debate among the special operations community about breaking silence about their secret missions.
Robert O’Neill, 38, told The Washington Post that he fired the two shots that killed bin Laden.
He first recounted the story to Esquire magazine last February, which identified him only as “the shooter”.
One current and one former SEAL has confirmed that Mr O’Neill was long known to have fired the shots that killed the leader of the international terror group responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Mr O’Neill told the Post that shots were also fired by two other SEAL team members, including Matt Bissonnette, who described the raid somewhat differently in his book, No Easy Day.
His lawyer said Mr Bissonnette was under federal criminal investigation over whether he disclosed classified information in the book, which he did not vet with the military.
In the Esquire piece, Mr O’Neill makes no mention of Mr Bissonnette shooting bin Laden.
Mr O’Neill discussed his role in the raid during a private meeting with relatives of victims of the 9/11 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre before the recent opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
He donated the shirt he was wearing in the operation, which is now on display there.
He is due to be featured in lengthy segments next week on Fox News and told the Post he decided to go public because he feared his identity was going to be leaked by others. Indeed, his name was published on Monday by SOFREP, a website operated by former special operations troopers.
The actions of both Mr O’Neill and Mr Bissonnette have drawn scorn from some of their colleagues.
In an October 31 open letter, Rear Admiral Brian Losey, who commands the Naval Special Warfare Group, and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci, the top non-commissioned officer of the group, urged SEALs to lower their public profile in comments widely perceived as being aimed at Mr O’Neill and Mr Bissonnette.
“At Naval Special Warfare’s core is the SEAL ethos,” the letter says. “A critical tenant of our ethos is, ’I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions’.”
The letter added, “We do not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety or financial gain.”
Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon, attended the 9/11 museum ceremony.
She said Mr O’Neill, whose name was not divulged at the event, offered the families clarity on conflicting information they had received about the raid.
She said she did not have an opinion about whether SEALs should disclose information about their deeds. “Whatever that (SEALs’) ethos is, is between the SEALS,” she said.
“The 9/11 families are the beneficiaries of any rules he might have broken or whatever lines he might have crossed.”
“He went through the mission in really in great detail. All that information was very helpful to me because this is a figure in a terror organisation that has loomed large in our lives.”
Ms Burlingame said she listened to him so intently that the 9/11 commemorative coin she was clasping tightly in her hand left a bruise.
Rick Woolard, a former SEAL team commander who previously urged his comrades to avoid discussing recent operations, said active-duty SEALs were “pretty much very disappointed and I’d have to say angry with guys who have used their deeds and those of their companions for personal gain”.
No Easy Day was published in 2012 under the pseudonym Mark Owen. Mr Bissonnette recounted on 60 Minutes that he sent a text to the commander of SEAL Team Six after its publication. He said the commander replied: “Delete me.”
At the same time, Mr Woolard said, there was frustration among some special operations soldiers that senior government officials left office and wrote memoirs revealing and profiting from actions involving troops sworn to secrecy.
But one active-duty SEAL officer, who declined to be named said some SEALs had grown accustomed to some of their members seeking to profit from their connections to the elite group upon retirement.
Senior Pentagon and CIA officials co-operated extensively with the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, a film that depicted both the CIA’s years-long hunt for bin Laden and the SEALs raid that killed him in Pakistan.
In the Esquire piece, Mr O’Neill said he was one of two SEALs who went up to the third floor of the building where bin Laden was hiding.
The first man fired two shots at bin Laden as he peeked out of the bedroom, but Mr O’Neill said those shots missed. The man then tackled two women in the hallway outside bin Laden’s bedroom.
Mr O’Neill said he went into the bedroom and “there was bin Laden standing there. He had his hands on a woman’s shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly toward me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. It was his youngest wife, Amal”.
He added: “In that second, I shot him two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down.
“He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again. Bap! Same place. ... He was dead.”