‘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 had 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, D.C., that killed roughly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. While bin Laden was the founder of al-Qaida, al-Zawahri played a crucial role in many of its plots.

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On Tuesday, dozens milled around the South and North Pools created in the footprints of the Twin Towers which collapsed after being attacked by suicide hijackers sent by al-Qaida.

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 that 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’

Others, like Joy Alario Lonibos didn’t even 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, were visiting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And she says 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 says of the woman who shares 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. And she learned about Margaret 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 also 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. 

But 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.”