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US counter-terrorism official John Brennan AP/PA Images
Osama bin Laden

US moves away from remark that bin Laden ‘used his wife as human shield’

Top US official had claimed that the terrorist tried to save himself during raid on his Pakistan compound.

Updated 3 May, 16.59

OSAMA BIN LADEN did not use one of his wives as a human shield in an apparent attempt to try to save his own life during a raid by US covert forces – despite what a top US officia said last night.

“There was family at that compound, and 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,” counter-terrorism official John Brennan said last night.

Pressed on reports the woman shot dead by Navy SEALs during a firefight at a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan was one of bin Laden’s four wives, Brennan told a White House briefing: “That’s my understanding.”

Brennan said it was not entirely clear “whether or not bin Laden or the son or whatever put her there or she put herself there” or whether the Al-Qaeda chief himself fired rounds during the exchange.

“From a visual perspective, here is bin Laden who has been calling for attacks, living in this million dollar plus compound, living in an area that’s far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,” he said.

“I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years, and so again looking at what bin Laden was doing, hiding there while he’s putting other people out there to carry out attacks, again, just speaks to, I think, the nature of the individual he was.”

However, the US has done a bit of a U-turn since that press briefing and has not repeated its claim that bin Laden used one of his four wives as a human shield. The Guardian notes that the wife who was at the compound did not in fact die, although another woman did.

The name of the son of bin Laden’s who was killed has also been updated – it is not Hamza, but Khalid who is now reported to have been killed.

The White House cited “confusion” over the exact events, which were viewed by Brennan on live feed, during the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound.  The US website Politico was told by an unnamed White House official that bin Laden was not armed when he was killed and so could not have been “firing behind her” (a woman). The official added:

Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up.

Bin Laden’s wife received a gunshot wound only to her calf but did not die.

- additional reporting from the AP

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