A veteran U.S. Navy SEAL says he was the middle-of-the-night raider who shot and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani hideout in 2011.
His name has been secret for more than three years, but Robert O'Neill is telling U.S. news organizations he fired three shots at bin Laden, hitting him twice in the forehead and a third time after he crumbled to floor in front of his bed at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
O'Neill says he was near the head of the column of commandos on the Navy SEAL Team 6 that burst into the bin Laden compound and confronted the architect of the 2001 al-Qaida terror attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.
O'Neill said the first SEAL to reach bin Laden's room fired a shot that apparently missed, before he spotted bin Laden through his night-vision scope.
The 38-year-old O'Neill said that at least two other SEAL team members fired shots, including Mark Bissonnette, who previously wrote a book about the raid, No Easy Day.
O'Neill, now retired from the military after 16 years and giving motivational speeches, said he decided to disclose his role in the raid after becoming convinced his identity was about to be revealed by others. He was preparing to make his story public when a group of former SEAL members disclosed his name in protest of his plan to make the disclosure himself.
The U.S. military has also been angered by the disclosure as O'Neill's plan became evident. A few days ago, a U.S. Naval Special Warfare commander warned individual SEALS they were obligated to "not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my action" in exchange for "public notoriety or financial gain."
O'Neill, who was awarded numerous military decorations during more than 400 U.S. combat missions, also participated in the 2009 rescue of merchant marine Captain Richard Phillips from pirates off the coast of Somalia. That raid was depicted in the 2013 movie, Captain Phillips.