'There's a peace': al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri's death sparks reflection at NYC's 9/11 memorial

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NEW YORK CITY – One day after President Joe Biden announced that a U.S. strike killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, Joe Gallant gazed at the 9/11 memorial built where the World Trade Center once stood.

"We had planned to come here today anyway to honor the thousands who were killed," said Gallant, 68, who was visiting with his two nephews from Bangor, Maine. "So the timing couldn't have been better that we're here on the day they nailed one of the SOBs that did it."

A U.S. drone strike over the weekend in Afghanistan killed al-Zawahri, 71, nearly 21 years after he helped Osama bin Laden orchestrate the attacks on New York and Washington that killed roughly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. Bin Laden founded al-Qaida, and al-Zawahri played a crucial role in many of its plots.

WHO WAS AYMAN AL-ZAWAHRI? Master strategist for al-Qaida was Osama bin Laden's mentor, then successor

Ayman al-Zawahri, left, was a mentor to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Ayman al-Zawahri, left, was a mentor to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, dozens milled around the South and North Pools created in the footprints of the trade center's twin towers, which collapsed after suicide hijackers sent by al-Qaida flew jets into them.

Raymond Holloway, 35, and his wife, Ngozi, 42, looked at the names of those killed, etched in metal.

"My daddy was in the building that morning that it happened," said Holloway, who lives in Montgomery, Alabama, but is originally from New York. "He was a paralegal delivering papers at 5 that morning. So his name very well could have been on that wall."

It was Ngozi Holloway's first time visiting New York, and she said al-Zawahri's killing was "like a little bit of justice for all those who were lost, for their families."

'He's not going to do it to anybody else'

Joy Alario Lonibos didn't know al-Zawahri was dead, but she was heartened when she learned the news.

"Amen," she said. "It will never heal or fix what he orchestrated, but there's a peace in knowing he's not going to do it to anybody else."

Lonibos and her husband, David, visited from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She said she wanted to come to the downtown memorial to pay tribute to a woman she never met but to whom she feels connected.

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“Margaret Alario is the name of one of the people who perished on that day, and it's such an unusual name, I thought, ‘We have to be related,’” she said of the woman who shared her maiden name. “So I had to come take a picture and say a prayer for her family.”

Lonibos remembers sitting in a hospital waiting room on Sept. 11 with her then-5-year-old son, clutching a rosary as she watched the terror attacks unfold on TV. She learned about Alario when she watched the annual memorial service, where the names of the victims are read aloud by their loved ones.

"But nothing feels like it does to be right here," Lonibos said. "It's extremely overwhelming and emotional."

One of Gallant's nephews reflected on the memorial built to commemorate an attack that happened before he was born.

"Obviously, you hear all about it (in school) every year," said Collin Scobie, 18.

His feelings about the U.S. strike and al-Zawahri's death were more muted than his uncle's.

"I understand why they did it, and it's obviously a win for our country," Scobie said. "But I can't say I have any connection to it."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ayman al-Zawahri killing sparks reflection at NYC's 9/11 memorial