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Sunday, January 31, 2010

CIA May Set Its Drone Sights on Anwar Awlaki

Interesting -- and significant -- story in the Washington Post today. Radical imam Anwar Alwaki -- an American citizen -- may soon be added to the CIA's drone target list.

Much ado has been made about the fact that this would be the first time an American has been targeted -- although as I have noted elsewhere, it would not be the first time an American Jihadist was killed in a drone attack. In 2002, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen (as it happens) killed Kamal Derwish, a Buffalo native connected to the Lackawanna Six.

It was reported earlier that the U.S. may have missed an opportunity to kill Awlaki due to wrangling over the legalities that his citizenship may or may not complicate. The questions include:

  • What standard of evidence gets you on the kill list?
  • Who reviews that decision?
  • Do you (as a citizen) have any recourse to get off of the list?

    These are not idle questions. In at least one case, U.S.-aligned forces killed an Al Qaeda suspect whose terrorist credentials were (at the least) questionable. That person wasn't a U.S. citizen, but it's still a troubling precedent. What if Eliot Ness has simply whacked Al Capone?

    The kill list is -- currently -- about two dozen names long. Most of them are active in command and control of terrorist attacks. While there are strong reasons to suspect Awlaki falls into that category, extremely significant unanswered questions remain -- not only about his role in the Detroit Christmas bomb attempt and the Nidal Hasan massacre, but about his connection to September 11.

    Realistically, the only way most of those questions are ever going to be answered in the public sphere is if Awlaki is captured and returned to the U.S. for a trial. As I have mentioned before, trials are the public's most important window into Al Qaeda and how terrorism works. And there is no case we need to understand more than 9/11.

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    INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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