Former President Bill Clinton delivers a speech in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2001. (Kevork Djansezian/AP)
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Former President Bill Clinton told an audience in Australia just hours before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that he passed on the chance to kill Osama bin Laden with a military strike, according to an audio tape just released.
Australia's Sky News aired the tape, which was rebroadcast by NBC News on Thursday.
The recording had been forgotten about until Michael Kroger, former head of the Liberal Party in the Australian state of Victoria, remembered the tape, NBC said.
"I'm just saying, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden — he's a very smart guy, I've spent a lot of time thinking about him — and I nearly got him once," Clinton says in the recording.
"I nearly got him. 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 just didn't do it."
Clinton made his remarks Sept. 10 in Melbourne to a group of business leaders after being asked about terrorism — about 10 hours before the attacks on the United States.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed when hijackers directed by bin Laden, the former al-Qaeda leader, crashed jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. A third plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
At the time, bin Laden was was already on the FBI's Most Wanted list for his role in the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.