Bill Clinton, hours before 9/11 attacks: ‘I could have killed bin Laden’

Just hours before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, former U.S. President Bill Clinton told an audience in Australia about his missed chance to kill terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, according to audio released this week. Clinton was in Melbourne at the time, and was speaking to business leaders when the topic of terrorism came up. The world would soon change forever when a Boeing 767, hijacked by bin Laden’s terrorist group, slammed into the World Trade Center. The attacks—two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a plane hit the Pentagon, and one plane was driven into the ground in Pennsylvania — killed more than 3,000 people.

I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him.

Bill Clinton in 2001

Bin Laden, who headed the terrorist group al-Qaida, had been targeted by authorities due to his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Clinton’s statements referred to a proposed strike in December 1998, after intelligence indicated that bin Laden was staying at the governor’s residence in Kandahar, though the 9/11 Commission found that it unlikely bin Laden would have been killed in such an attack.

The principals’ wariness about ordering a strike appears to have been vindicated: Bin Laden left his room unexpectedly, and if a strike had been ordered he would not have been hit.

9/11 Commission Report