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Were Navy SEALs justified in shooting an unarmed Osama bin Laden?

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced Tuesday that Osama bin Laden was unarmed when shot by Navy SEALs. But under the law of war, the Al Qaeda leader was a legitimate military target, say legal experts.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gives the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, May 3. Osama bin Laden was unarmed when shot by SEAL Team Six, Mr. Carney acknowledged Tuesday. That contradicted Monday's account from John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security, who indicated that bin Laden had participated in the armed resistance that the SEALs encountered.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

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The Obama administration on Tuesday altered its account of the killing of Osama bin Laden, making clear for the first time that the Al Qaeda leader was unarmed when he was confronted and shot dead by US commandos.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney released a revised narrative of the 40-minute secret operation. He said the US Navy SEALs encountered hostile fire almost immediately upon arriving at bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. They returned fire, killing two men and a woman who was apparently caught in the crossfire.

During a room-to-room search of the main house, US forces encountered bin Laden in an upstairs bedroom. When the commandos entered the room, bin Laden’s wife – who was unarmed – charged one of them. She was shot in the leg, but was not killed.

Bin Laden was fatally shot in the chest and in the head.

Carney said bin Laden “resisted” US forces, but the press secretary did not explain what constituted his resistance.

“Resistance does not require a firearm,” he said.

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