WASHINGTON - A former US Navy SEAL who took part in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound broke cover on Thursday, claiming to be the man who fired the fatal shot which killed the Al-Qaeda leader.
Robert O'Neill, 38, told The Washington Post he shot bin Laden in the forehead at his hideout in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad three years ago.
The former commando told the Post he decided to come forward ahead of planned media appearances next week when his identity was disclosed by SOFREP, a website operated by former SEALs.
SOFREP's revelation was in protest at O'Neill's decision to reveal his role in the mission.
The highly decorated Montana native told the Post that he was near the head of the column of US soldiers that raided bin Laden's compound, adding that at least two other SEALs fired shots.
The newspaper said two SEAL team members had corroborated his identity.
O'Neill is set to appear in a documentary on the Fox network next week.
At bin Laden's compound, O'Neill was located in the number two position for the attack on the Al-Qaeda leader's bedroom.
Bin Laden briefly appeared at the door but the SEAL in front of O'Neill apparently missed his shot.
"I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway," O'Neill said. "There was bin Laden, standing there. He had his hands on a woman's shoulders, pushing her ahead."
O'Neill said he could clearly identify bin Laden through his night-vision scope, despite the darkness of the room -- and he fired.
The onetime SEAL said it was clear that bin Laden was dead as his skull was split.
O'Neill is the second member of the elite unit involved in the bin Laden raid to go public, in a move which has dismayed military brass and serving SEALS who maintain a fierce, Omerta-like code of silence.
Matt Bissonnette published his account of the raid, "No Easy Day" in 2012 under the pseudonym Mark Owen.
Bissonnette appeared to take issue with O'Neill's version of events in an interview with NBC News.
"Two different people telling two different stories for two different reasons," Bissonnette said. "Whatever he says, he says. I don't want to touch that."
The Post said O'Neill had long agonized over whether to go public but finally decided to do so after concerns that others would leak his identity, which was already known in military circles, by members of Congress and at least two news organisations.
He finally decided to come forward after meeting with relatives of victims of the September 11, 2011 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
O'Neill said he decided on the spot to speak about how bin Laden died.
"The families told me it helped bring them some closure," O'Neill told the Post.
But his decision has been met with anger from some of his SEAL colleagues.
In an October 31 letter to the Naval Special Warfare Command ranks, Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci and Rear Admiral Brian Losey stressed that a "critical tenet" of the force was to "not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my action."
O'Neill had already served nearly 15 years as a SEAL by the time of the raid on bin Laden's compound, and was serving in the elite SEAL Team Six unit.
In 2009, he served on a mission to rescue a ship captain from pirates off the coast of Somalia. The story was turned into a film starring Tom Hanks as the captain, Richard Phillips.