The al Qaeda chief’s fourth and youngest wife and her son Hussein were the only ones in the same room as him in their safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, when US Navy Seals stormed the compound and shot him.
The story of the night of May 1, 2011, when US forces killed Osama bin Laden, has been told and retold many times. The US government, US Navy Seals and intelligence analysts have given varying accounts of how it unfolded.
Now, for the first time, we see the events of that night through the eyes of his fourth and youngest wife, Amal, who has spoken to Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy for their book The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden about the last few minutes of the 9/11 mastermind’s life.
In an excerpt published in The Sunday Times UK titled Watching Daddy Die, Amal recalls the sickening screech with which a US military Black Hawk helicopter landed in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that the family was hiding out in for six years, and the fear on the face of her husband when he was woken up by it.
As the Seals moved towards the house, bin Laden’s family – three of his four wives and their children – gathered in his upstairs bedroom and prayed, she says. He then told his wives to go downstairs with their children: “They want me, not you.”
Amal, however, insisted on staying by his side with their son Hussein.
In the tense moments in which they waited as the Navy Seal team crept upwards towards their room, killing one of Osama’s sons Khalid and clashing with his daughters Sumaiya and Miriam on the way, Amal realised someone in their inner circle had given away the location of their “safe house”: “It was clear, she thought. Their safe house was a death trap and someone had betrayed them.”
Her account suggests bin Laden had no contingency plan in place for such an assault, as she recalls realising “with cold dread” that there was no emergency procedure to follow “aside from some euros sewn into her husband’s underwear along with emergency numbers for his deputies in Waziristan”.
When the Navy team entered the room, she tried to rush them, but was shot in the leg and passed out. When she came to, bin laden was already dead. A trembling Hussein, who had witnessed the killing of his father, sat by her side.
Amal recalls how she stayed motionless and “played dead”, listening to the Seals hold the terrified Sumaiya and Miriam and bin Laden’s distraught second wife Khairiah next to his body to confirm his identity.
They took bin Laden’s body and the family downstairs and Amal realized, she says, that “the end they had never dared to discuss had come and gone in minutes”.