Survivors and family members of the USS Cole bombing find justice in the killing of an Al-Qaeda terrorist

For the victims whose lives were forever changed by the evil acts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the drone attack last weekend that killed the 71-year-old terrorist means their suffering has not been forgotten .

Retired Navy Commander. Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer Cole when the ship was attacked during a resupply operation in Aden, Yemen, in 2000, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39, said he was satisfied after the announcement on Monday of the success of the resulting American operation. in the death of Zawahiri.

“I don’t get any happiness or joy out of it. What I get out of it is a sense of satisfaction that the US government is committed to holding terrorists accountable for killing Americans,” Lippold said in an interview with Military.com on Wednesday.

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The White House announced on Monday that Zawahiri was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, early Sunday morning local time, swept away as he stood on his balcony by Hellfire missiles sent from an unmanned aerial system.

Zawahiri was one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, an Egyptian surgeon and current al-Qaeda leader who, along with the group’s founder Osama bin Laden, planned terror attacks that killed more than 3,200 people and in injured 10,500 others. These include the attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998; the Cole; and the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, September 11, 2001.

The strike was the first US operation in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of US troops last August, ending more than 20 years of war that has killed 2,455 US troops, including 13 in the final sortie.

President Joe Biden said in a televised address on Monday that Zawahiri had made videos in recent weeks calling for attacks on the United States and allied countries.

“Now justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.

On October 12, 2000, the Cole had docked in Aden for a refueling operation when officers maneuvered a small boat alongside the vessel and detonated over 400 pounds of explosives. The explosion ripped a 40 by 45 foot hole in the ship at her waterline, sparking a valiant effort to save the vessel.

Among the 17 sailors who died was apprentice signalman Cherone Gunn, 22, of Virginia Beach, Va. Gunn’s brother Jamal, who still lives in Virginia Beach, told local news channel WTKR that his brother was a “great man”.

“[Zawahiri] didn’t just play a major role in my brother’s death. He played a major role in al-Qaeda in general, so I’m happy to see him brought to justice,” Gunn said.

The Zawahiri strike marked the fourth time in two decades that Cole staff and families have learned that those responsible for the attack have paid for their actions with their lives.

In 2002, a 25-year-old bombing suspect, Sameer Mohammed al-Hada, blew himself up with a grenade as security forces closed in to arrest him in Aden. He and two sisters had deep ties to al-Qaida, with a sister married to one of the 9/11 hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, and a another sister married to a known Yemeni terrorist.

In 2011, before dawn on May 2, US forces attacked Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed the al-Qaida leader, shooting him in his third-floor bedroom. His body was buried at sea by American sailors from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.

In January 2019, Al-Qaeda operative Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al-Badawi, one of the terrorists involved in Cole’s planning, was killed in a US airstrike in Yemen.

And now, Zawahiri.

“It is very gratifying to see that we have very dedicated professionals still serving our government who are willing to invest time and resources over the years to develop the solution that allows us to conduct highly effective strikes like we did it against al-Zawahiri,” Lipold said.

Another suspect, Saudi Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is being held in Guantanamo military detention center in Cuba, where he has been held since 2006. His case has been pending trial since 2011.

Lippold’s naval career was derailed by the attack, but the service later concluded that he had taken reasonable precautions to protect and save his ship. He said he kept in touch with Cole’s former crew as well as his family members and, like them, had “lots of painful memories” when something like the Zawahiri strike happened.

“As well, however, they, like me, have a sense of satisfaction that our government has not forgotten and that we will hold these people accountable, even if it happens decades after their act,” Lippold said.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

Related: The downside: US strike shows Afghanistan is still a terrorist base

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