WASHINGTON - Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has blamed Bill Clinton for the September 11, 2001 attacks, saying that the former president could have prevented the death of thousands of Americans had he authorized Osama bin Laden’s assassination.

“I saw [bin Laden], I was watching him and reading about him making horrible statements about us, and I said to myself, I hope we take this guy out, and we didn’t take this guy out,” Trump said Tuesday, addressing a campaign rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

“And actually, Bill Clinton had their sights on him and then didn’t pull the trigger,” the billionaire businessman added. “If they pulled the trigger you’d probably have the World Trade Center the way it used to be. And by the way, most importantly, with all the thousands of lives that have been lost and affected so gravely.”

Only one day before the deadly attacks, Clinton had acknowledged that he had the opportunity to assassinate the former al-Qaeda leader in 1998, but he decided not to, arguing that a strike to eliminate the alleged 9/11 mastermind would have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. “I nearly got him,” Clinton said on September 10, 2001, while on a paid tour in Melbourne, Australia. “And I could have killed him, but I would have 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. And so I didn’t do it.”

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, released in the aftermath of the attacks, Clinton was advised against the proposed December 1998 strike on Kandahar, with then-Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton warning him that launching cruise missiles at bin Laden and his associates would risk residual damage, including the roughly 200 to 300 civilians who could have been killed by such a strike. Known as the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center in New York killed 3,000 people. Bin Laden eluded US authorities for years in the wake of the attacks, but US Special Forces finally got hold of him and killed him in 2011, during a raid in Abbottabad.