Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed on Wednesday that the four Americans who were killed in past drone strikes were on a “hit list” of American citizens who were considered to be terrorists. The information had been widely known but has only recently been unclassified under orders of President Barack Obama.
One of them was the Islamic militant cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, 40. In September 2011, he was targeted in Yemen by a drone strike which killed him. He is perhaps better known by the nickname he earned of the “underwear bomber.”
Awlaki’s case was the first–and up until then, only–publicly known case in which a U.S. citizen was killed by a drone strike.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, met his death tens of thousnds of miles away in Yemen when an American drone fired on his vehicle.
According to Holder, al-Awlaki had become a senior operational leader in al-Qaida’s affiliate there. He was instrumental directing an infamous “underwear bombing plot” in Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
He also plotted a separate attack that didn’t come to fruition a year later. The thwarted attack involved bombs placed in printer cartridges and placed in cargo planes.
According to Holder, speaking from a prepared letter in front of the members of Congress, the other three Americans who were killed included Awlaki’s 16-year-old teenage son Abdulrahman, Samir Khan, an American of Pakistani origin who died in Yemen, and Jude Kenan Mohammed from North Carolina, who was indicted on U.S. terrorism charges in 2009 and was killed in Pakistan. He was not as widely known as the other Americans.
The other three Americans who have been killed under the drone program were not directly targeted, as Awlaki was. Samir Khan, an al-Qaida propagandist, was sitting next to al-Awlaki in Yemen when the drone strike hit, and died along with him in the attack.
Just weeks later, al-Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman died in a strike aimed at an outdoor café in Yemen.
Jude Kenan Mohammad was a former North Carolina resident. In 2009, he faced terrorism charges which included conspiracy to provide support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder people overseas. Mohammad left the U.S. in October 2008, allegedly with the intent of traveling to Pakistan to engage in violent jihad.
In the letter Holder read, he said that Awlaki had “repeatedly made clear his intent to attack U.S. persons and his hope that these attacks would take American lives.”
Eric Holder admitted in the letter that anyone who commits acts of terrorism is subject to being killed by a drone strike or other methods, even if he or she is an United States citizen. This possibility has been a fear in the minds of many Americans. Now, it is clear that the fear has become a reality, with Holder’s admitting that four U.S. citizens have been targeted and killed via drone strikes.
Holder stated that Al-Awlaki’s targeting required approval from several federal agencies and the highest levels of the U.S. government. Also, appropriate congressional committees were briefed a full year before he was killed about the decision.
“The decision to target [al-Awlaki] was lawful, it was considered, and it was just,” Holder declared.
A senior committee of Obama administration officials were involved in approving Awlaki’s killing.
The president did not have to approve adding Awlaki’s name to the target list, according to officials at the time. He would only have been notified of the senior officials’ actual decision. Then, f Obama had objected, the decision would have been nullified.
On Thursday, in a speech on counter-terrorism, President Barack Obama is expected to promise more transparency on national security issues. The speech will be held at the National Defense University, which will cover the legal and policy framework for counterterrorism operation.
The Obama administration has previously acknowledged, albeit privately, that Awlaki and his son were the victims of drone strikes. According to a source, Mohammed was also killed in a drone strike.
Greater transparency regarding the White House’s targeted killing program has been called for by members of Congress and national security experts across the political and ideological spectrum, especially about the details of when U.S. citizens are on the list.
Holder, in the letter he read from, stated that the release of information about the deaths of the four American citizens was one step in “extensive outreach efforts to communicate with the American people.”
Written by: Douglas Cobb