News agency releases graphic photos of raid

May 4, 2011

On a day when the White House declined to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, the Reuters news agency released a series of bloody pictures of the attack’s aftermath. Reuters said the images depict the deaths of three men who were with the al-Qaeda leader when he was killed in his Pakistani compound.

Reuters said it bought the photos from an unidentified Pakistani security agent who had entered the house in Abbottabad an hour after U.S. commandos raided it. On Sunday, Navy SEALs shot bin Laden to death and took his body with them.

The Reuters photos show three apparently dead men lying in pools of blood. There are no weapons in evidence, but the pictures are so closely cropped that only a limited area is visible around the men’s bodies.

The photos suggest the men were unarmed, but that can’t be known for sure from the images. It’s unclear whether the scene was tampered with before the photos were taken.

Reuters spokesman Patrick Flanary said his company had obtained the photos “from a trusted source” whom he would not reveal for security purposes.

The White House said Wednesday that it would have no comment about the photos. The administration has amended its initial story that bin Laden was killed in an exchange of gunfire; the U.S. has acknowledged that the terrorist leader was unarmed.

Reuters began distributing the photos to news clients a few hours after President Obama said on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” in an interview to be broadcast fully Sunday, that the United States would not release images it possesses of bin Laden’s body. The president said he had made the decision to avoid a backlash among bin Laden’s supporters and also because such images could be used for propaganda against the United States.

In a dispatch accompanying the photos, Reuters said the earliest image was dated May 2 at 2:30 a.m., Pakistan time, or roughly one hour after the Navy SEALs attacked the complex. The news agency said it was confident of the photos’ authenticity because they were part of a series that included photos taken outside the house that matched photos taken independently on Monday.

Among other details, the exterior photos show part of a wrecked helicopter with an unusual tail assembly, matching the aircraft used by U.S. forces but destroyed by the SEALs after it had malfunctioned.

In the Reuters photos, one of the dead men lies face-up in his own blood, his eyes half closed, with what appears to be a child’s neon-colored water pistol under his right shoulder. Reuters did not disclose what it paid for the photos.

Some news Web sites, such MSNBC.com, decided not to publish the pictures, considering their gory nature. Others, such as Slate.com and the Huffington Post, posted them with a warning to viewers before they clicked to see the pictures.

Only the Reuters photos that show the grounds of the compound and wreckage of the helicopter were published on Washingtonpost.com. None of the images was published in print editions of The Washington Post.

See the aftermath photos at reuters.com (Warning: The images are very graphic)

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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