Trump never wanted to take out top al-Qaeda target al-Zawahiri because he didn't recognize his name: report
President Donald Trump sits at the Resolute desk during a briefing in the Oval Office of the White House in 2018.. - ISABEL INFANTES/TNS/TNS

President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. killed top al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who served as Osama bin Laden's No. 2 in the ongoing attacks on the United States. But according to an NBC report from 2020, former President Donald Trump had an opportunity to do the same, but refused because he didn't recognize al-Zawahiri's name.

Reporting in early 2020, NBC News reported that intelligence officials briefed then-President Trump many times about the most worrisome terrorist threats, specifically mentioning al-Zawahiri.

Trump would ultimately agree to take out ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Yemeni al Qaeda chief Qasim al-Rimi. But other of the significant names on the CIA's list were ignored.

Trump "was more interested in a young and less influential figure much farther down the list, according to two people familiar with the briefings, because he recognized the name," the report said at the time.

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

A Pentagon official agreed, noting, "That was the only name he knew."

By contrast, Biden explained that after "relentlessly seeking Zawahiri for years under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year. He had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family."

"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," Biden also said.