Former President Donald Trump reportedly skipped the chance to kill al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri because he did not recognize the name.
Zawahiri was killed on Saturday in a US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A report from NBC News two years ago indicate that the plan to kill the terrorist leader was in the works long before President Joe Biden took office, but his predecessor failed to act.
According to NBC News, intelligence officials briefed Trump many times about worrisome threats from senior terrorist figures like al-Zawahiri, who helped planned the 9/11 attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. But, Trump decided not to pursue al-Zawahiri because he didn’t recognize his name and instead suggested targeting bin Laden’s youngest son, Hamza bin Laden.
“He would say, ‘I’ve never heard of any of these people. What about Hamza bin Laden?'” a former official said.
Hamza bin Laden was not believed to be a part of planning attacks. He was killed in an airstrike carried out by the US in 2018.
“That was the only name he knew,” a Pentagon official said.
Douglas London, the man who led the CIA unit targeting senior terrorists in 2018, wrote in a piece for Just Security that Trump’s “obsession” with bin Laden’s son “is one example of the president’s preference for a ‘celebrity’ targeted killing versus prioritizing options that could prove better for U.S. security.”
The “CIA had not overlooked the value in Hamza’s name recognition, nor his musings posted by al Qaeda’s media cell, but he was young, lacked battlefield experience, and had yet to develop a serious following,” London wrote. “Despite intelligence assessments showing the greater dangers posed by Zawahri … and the unlikelihood Hamza was in the immediate line of succession, the president thought differently. He regularly demanded updates on Hamza and insisted we accelerate our efforts to go after him.”
After weeks of meetings with advisers and members of his cabinet, President Biden authorized a drone strike to kill al-Zawahiri on Saturday.
“Now, justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer,” Biden said in a speech on Monday from the White House. “The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. We make it clear again tonight, that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”