Wed, Sep 09, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Britain claims kills using drone

NO CHOICE?British Prime Minister David Cameron said the airstrike was authorized because there was no alternative, with no government in the area to collaborate with

NY Times News Service, LONDON

Crossing a significant threshold in its battle with Muslim militants, Britain on Monday announced that it had conducted an armed drone strike for the first time inside Syria, killing three suspected members of the Islamic State group, including two British citizens.

In a statement to the UK Parliament, British Prime Minister David Cameron said a British man, Reyaad Khan, had been identified as a terrorist threat and was killed on Aug. 21 in an operation in which two associates, including another Briton, identified as Ruhul Amin, also died.

Cameron’s announcement came as France said that it would start sending reconnaissance flights over Syria and was considering air strikes against the Islamic State in Syrian territory.

The British government’s decision to order a lethal drone strike against a terrorism suspect in another country — an action long practiced by the US — is a significant step for Britain, raising questions about the scope of British operations in the Middle East.

Britain is not taking part in military action in Syria, because lawmakers rejected the idea two years ago, although both Britain and France are involved in the US-led campaign to strike Islamic State targets in Iraq.

The Aug. 21 strike appeared to bring British policy closer to that of Washington, which in a 2011 drone strike targeted and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric.

British officials did not offer a specific explanation for the delay of more than two weeks in reporting the lethal drone operation. Nor did they explain precisely how they knew two of the victims were Britons.

“This announcement by the prime minister is a big departure in a number of ways,” said Michael Clarke, director general of the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization that specializes in defense issues, adding that Britain had so far promised not to conduct military operations in Syria.

“This drone strike is the first to have been conducted, apparently, as a targeted assassination,” Clarke said.

Speaking to lawmakers, Cameron justified the action on the grounds that Khan, 21, and another Briton, Junaid Hussain, had sought “to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks,” including terrorism in Britain.

Hussain was reported killed in a US drone strike on Aug. 24.

Cameron was vague about the precise threat posed, although he said it included “directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high-profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.”

Several weeks ago, one British newspaper suggested that the queen might be a terrorism target when she attended the ceremony to commemorate the end of World War II in Japan, although this commemoration took place on the weekend before the lethal British drone strike.

Cameron said six plots by Muslim militants had been thwarted this year and described the killings as an “act of self-defense,” taken after “meticulous planning.”

However, Labour Party acting leader Harriet Harman questioned the legality of the strike and urged the government to publish the legal advice, something it said it did not plan to do.

The decision to target Khan was made by the British National Security Council during a meeting attended by Cameron, his office said.

Approval for the specific operation that killed Khan was given by British Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, the office said.

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