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Firas Al-Atraqchi Headshot

If Only Bin Laden Had Been Killed 13 Years Ago

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The killing of bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces is likely to be a cathartic moment for the world -- almost as if a war has come to an end -- but his termination comes much too late.

And the war is not truly over until the real mastermind of the al Qaeda operation -- Ayman al-Zawahiri -- is brought to justice.

Bin Laden -- a figurehead of the ugly face of extremism and an example of how any faith can be perverted to serve political (not religious) goals -- should have been taken out when the CIA became aware of his role in the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He should have been taken out after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen's coast.

He should have been taken out on September 12, or 13, or 14, 2001.

Instead, bin Laden evaded capture and lived on as a leader of a terrorist organization and embodiment of what the "War on Terror" was all about.

Bin Laden and his murderous hive of followers became the bogeymen that justified the invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban was tossed out of Kabul and U.S. forces chased al Qaeda throughout the world, but bin Laden lived on and became the haunting example of what could happen unless the U.S. adopted the strategy of preemptive war.

Regrettably, U.S. foreign policy came to be branded by bin Laden.

And so, while bin Laden's recorded statements of defiance were broadcast on Al Jazeera, the Bush administration used his threats against the West to invade Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with 9/11 or with al Qaeda, intelligence has since shown.

I remember something the New York Times' Maureen Dowd said in the buildup to the Iraq War:

"The administration isn't targeting Iraq because of 9/11. It's exploiting 9/11 to target Iraq. This new fight isn't logical -- it's cultural. It is the latest chapter in the culture wars, the conservative dream of restoring America's sense of Manifest Destiny."

Al Qaeda caused the deaths of 3,000 innocent people in the U.S. But bin Laden was also the worst thing that has happened to Muslims and their history; Islam -- a faith that preceded al Qaeda by more than 1,400 years -- came to be defined by this terrorist group in much of post-9/11 Western discourse.

Al Qaeda never had a foothold in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion and occupation; its misbegotten preaching of murder was alien to Iraqi society. But since then, the terrorist group killed Iraqis -- almost as if it were implementing an apocalyptic agenda to wipe the country of its people.

It did not "resist" the U.S. occupation, instead choosing to drive a wedge between Iraqi Shia and Sunni.

Al Qaeda was not a liberating force; it did not speak for Muslims or defend their rights, but has wrought destruction and religious malaise in the Middle East.

As President Obama rightly said, bin Laden was a mass murderer of Muslims and his religion was not Islam.

Tonight, I remember the hundreds of thousands who died in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bali, Spain, the UK, the U.S. and anywhere al Qaeda practiced his rituals of fear.