A first-hand account of the Navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden contradicts previous accounts by US administration officials, raising questions about whether the terror mastermind presented a clear threat when he was first fired upon.
Bin Laden was apparently hit in the head when he looked out of his bedroom door into the top-floor hallway of his compound as Seals rushed up a narrow stairwell in his direction, according to the former Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen in No Easy Day. The book is to be published in the US next week by Penguin's Dutton imprint.
Mr Bissonnette says he was directly behind a "point man" going up the stairs. "Less than five steps" from the top of the stairs, he heard "suppressed" gunfire. The point man had seen a "man peeking out of the door" on the right side of the hallway. The author writes that Bin Laden, below, ducked back into his bedroom and the Seals followed, only to find him on the floor in a pool of blood with a hole visible on the side of his head and two women crying over his body.
Mr Bissonnette says that the point man pulled the two women out of the way and shoved them into a corner, and he and the other Seals trained their guns' laser sites on Bin Laden's still-twitching body, shooting him several times until he lay motionless. The Seals later found two weapons stored by the doorway untouched, the author said.
In the account related by officials, the Seals shot Bin Laden only after he ducked back into the bedroom because they assumed he was reaching for a weapon.
The White House spokesman Tommy Vietor would not comment, but said in an email: "As President Obama said on the night justice was brought to Osama bin Laden, 'We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.'"
No Easy Day was due out on 11 September, but Dutton announced that the book would be available a week early because of a surge of orders due to advance publicity.
The account is sure again to raise questions as to whether the raid was intended to capture or to kill Bin Laden. Mr Bissonette writes that during a pre-raid briefing, a lawyer from "either" the White House or Defence Department told them that they were not on an assassination mission. The book has sparked concern among US officials, who fear it may include classified information, as it did not undergo the review required by the Pentagon for works published by Defence Department employees.