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Trump had the chance to kill Al Qaeda's leader but didn't because he didn't recognize the name, report says

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trump pompeo
Then-President Donald Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the White House.Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • The Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a US drone strike, Biden announced Monday.

  • Then-President Trump had the option to kill al-Zawahiri but chose not to, NBC reported in 2020.

  • Trump wanted to kill Osama bin Laden's son instead because it was the only name he knew, NBC said.

President Donald Trump had the chance to kill the leader of Al Qaeda but didn't because he didn't recognize the terrorist leader's name, NBC News reported in 2020.

Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, President Joe Biden announced Monday.

His death, which has been praised by many world leaders, is the biggest blow to Al Qaeda since its founder, Osama bin Laden, was killed by US Navy SEALs in 2011.

But plans for al-Zawahiri's execution could have been carried out far earlier, according to an NBC News report published in February 2020.

Intelligence officials briefed Trump many times about senior terrorist figures the CIA wanted to track down and kill, mentioning al-Zawahiri, NBC News reported.

Two people familiar with the briefings told NBC News that Trump chose not to pursue al-Zawahiri because he didn't recognize his name and instead suggested targeting bin Laden's son, Hamza bin Laden.

"He would say, 'I've never heard of any of these people. What about Hamza bin Laden?'" one unnamed former official told NBC News.

A Pentagon official also told the news outlet: "That was the only name he knew."

The Department of Defense and a spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

Even though bin Laden's son was widely seen as an emerging figure in the terrorist group, he was not believed to be planning any attacks at the time, NBC News reported.

'The president's preference for a "celebrity" targeted killing'

Trump confirmed in 2019 that the younger bin Laden had been killed in a US counterterrorism operation earlier on in his presidency.

"Despite intelligence assessments showing the greater dangers posed by Zawahiri, as well as his Iran-based lieutenants al-Masri and Saif al-Adil, and the unlikelihood Hamza was in the immediate line of succession, the president thought differently," the former CIA official Douglas London wrote in Just Security in 2020.

He added 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 US security."

In his address announcing al-Zawahiri's death, Biden said that after "relentlessly seeking Zawahiri for years under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year."

"This mission was carefully planned, rigorously minimized the risk of harm to other civilians, and one week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him, and the mission was a success."

Al-Zawahiri helped Osama bin Laden plot the September 11, 2001, attacks, which directly killed nearly 3,000 people.

Read the original article on Business Insider