Who is the American the US seeks to target with drones?

Yesterday’s report by Kim Dozier in The Associated Press on the Obama administration’s mulling over targeting a US citizen in a drone strike has created a stir in the usual corners. The discussion about executing a US citizen known to fight for al Qaeda brings up familiar legal controversies, which we avoid here. I was quoted by Ken Dilanian The Los Angeles Times on this issue:

Roggio said he believed the administration was “adhering to an unreasonably high legal standard for targeting what is clearly an enemy combatant in a combat zone. If Americans choose to side with Al Qaeda in its war against the U.S., then they should be fair game.”

And I stand by that. No one can reasonably argue that al Qaeda leaders and operatives who were killed by the US, such as Anwar al Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed, weren’t openly waging war on the US. Their actions, their public statements, and their presence with known al Qaeda leaders in war zones (and yes, in my opinion, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are indeed war zones) legitimately puts them in the crosshairs. My quote is followed by a statement from Mieke Eoyang, director of national security at Third Way, who argues that the US should identify the American before striking:

“When you are going to take steps that are final and there is no appeal, you have to give people a chance to say, ‘You got the wrong guy. I’m not really as bad as you think,’ ” she said. “If you’re going to kill somebody, you have to make your case.”

I actually agree with Eoyang. If the American citizen wants to turn himself in to plead his case, by all means he should be afforded the opportunity to do so. Additionally, I feel the secrecy that prevents the US from publicly identifying al Qaeda and allied jihadists harms our understanding of the nature of the group.

To turn back to the main topic this post — the identity of the American the US seeks to target with drones — the answer is that we don’t know at the moment, as US officials are tight-lipped on the subject (again, a major mistake in my opinion). But we can guess. Here is the AP‘s description of the wanted al Qaeda operative:

Two of the officials described the man as an al Qaeda facilitator who has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against US citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.

The officials said the suspected terrorist is well-guarded and in a fairly remote location, so any unilateral attempt by US troops to capture him would be risky and even more politically explosive than a US missile strike.

Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan approve US military/CIA operations in their territory, so those countries can be removed from the list. And while Iraq may be a possibility, there have been no reports of the targeting or deaths of US military, diplomatic, or civilian personnel there in years.

This clearly puts the unnamed al Qaeda facilitator inside Pakistan and directing attacks against US forces in Afghanistan (he may also be targeting US personnel in Pakistan).

It is possible that the name of operative being targeted isn’t currently in the public sphere. But if the operative is known to the public, there is a very short list of Americans known to operate in Pakistan.

While some suspect the person may be Adnan G. el Shukrijumah, who has lived in America, he is a Guyanese citizen, so he doesn’t qualify.

Adam Gadahn is the American al Qaeda operative everyone knows to be based there, but his responsibilities are in the propaganda realm. So it is unlikely he is the target.

Two other Americans known to operate in Pakistan are far less famous than Gadahn. They are Sayfullah al Amriki and Abu Ibrahim al Amriki. Pakistani officials told the Press Trust of India in 2010 that both were on the US’ target list.

Both Sayfullah and Abu Ibrahim fit the bill as military operatives for jihadist groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal over the years.

Abu Ibrahim al Amirki [photo below] first appeared in 2009 in a propaganda video released by EILF Media for a group calling itself the “German Taliban Mujahideen,” which is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Abu Ibrahim appears to be a leader or a popular figure; he is seen raising an AK-47 assault rifle while standing on the back of a truck, apparently addressing a crowd. The German Taliban Mujahideen is actually the Islamic Jihad Group, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The US killed Najmuddin Jalalov, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, in a Predator strike on Sept. 14, 2009.


Sayfullah is shown in a jihadist video in 2010

in which he implored Muslims to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad. Sayfullah first appears in the video at 19:40. Here are some choice quotes from Sayfullah:

“… we must rush to the lands of jihad ….”

“… we must fight … those who occupy ….”

“Fight those who don’t believe in Allah ….”

“I have met many people from around the world, from America, from, from England, from, from Germany, from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, people from all around the world, brothers and sisters … they wish for one thing, shahada [bear witness] ….”

” … we are fighting against an enemy that is hoping for a paycheck at the end ….”

“I ask you my brothers and sister to come, make hijra [migration] for the sake of jihad ….”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • JimBoMo says:

    “to give people [our Citizens] a chance to say, ‘You got the wrong guy'”?
    Ahhhh, don’t we already have a process for that?
    Article III, Section 3. “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
    Bill of Rights, Amendment V. “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; ”
    Are there any compelling reasons why, in principle, “the Amriki” should not either:
    a) be determined to a combatant (as Confederate soldiers did) ; or
    b) be offered either opportunity to defend themselves (or confess) at trial (in absentia if necessary)?
    Is there any reason why and the State shouldn’t be compelled to present a judgement (“he is a combatant because”) or evidence (“the Testimony of two Witnesses to the over act”)?
    The very best way to defend our Constitution is to exercise vigorously its very powers, to compel the branches of government to honor their Oath to “defend the Constitution from all enemies,. That includes the Duty to try the accused, present the evidence, and accept the judgement.
    If the Executive’s power (aka The State) isn’t checked by either the Judiciary or the Legislative Branches, then there are no limits on the State.
    I am very uncomfortable with any entity that has power over me and is un-checked.

  • Scott J says:

    Our Constitution states that the Congress shall hold the power “to declare war”. The Constitution does not state the manner or form that such a declaration must take, leaving that to the Congress. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, effectively declaring war on Al Qaeda. That state of war is still in effect.
    Those two al-Amriki’s have joined the enemy, and I see no moral or legal reason why they should not be targeted and killed if possible. It would be no different than killing an American of German descent who had joined the German army during WW2.
    What gives some people pause is the specific and deliberate targeting of the person. They would have no problem with the death of this person if it happened during a battlefield firefight where our troops didn’t know who he was. It is the specific intent to kill a specific American citizen that bothers people. But from a purely legal and moral standpoint, I see no difference.
    In my opinion, the al-Amriki’s should not be up for public debate. All that does is send them deeper into hiding, making it more difficult to find and eliminate them. A better plan would be to find them and kill them. And once they’re dead, go ahead and tell the American people what has happened and lay out your case against them.
    Now some might say that government might lie about them and that the dead can’t defend themselves.
    But when we, the people, direct our government to go to war – as we did – we are taking a very grave step, and we must at some point and at some level trust our military professionals to carry out their duty and do what we have tasked them to do. That doesn’t mean that we can’t ask questions or we can’t argue. But going to war means placing great trust in our military to do the right things, and if we can’t trust them to target these people for legitimate reasons, then certainly, we cannot trust them to target anyone at all, and we probably shouldn’t have sent them in to do a job in the first place.
    Besides … our government can’t keep a secret anyway. If the targeting of these al-Amriki’s was for some nefarious reason, and claiming they were enemies of the U.S. was all a big lie, the truth would be leaked out sooner or later and heads would roll in Washington. The CIA and the military establishment knows this. I cannot think of any reason why our government would target these al-Amriki’s if all they were doing in Waziristan was feeding milk to needy children. Can you?
    So … drop a Hellfire on their traitorous heads, and tell us about it after.

  • Brian L says:

    Bill, I have to disagree with you. We must treat these American al-Qaeda operatives as criminals and afford them the same justice as if they were suspected of petty burglary here in the United States.
    After all, when Americans joined the Waffen-SS, Eisenhower used all methods possible to…. Oh, wait a minute. I guess we treated them just like German members in the Waffen-SS: kill in combat, capture if appropriate.

  • James says:

    One thing you all that have responded to this article have totally failed to consider: the right of our people to act in self defense.
    This is a war, not a police action.
    These thugs are actively engaged and executing plans to kill Americans.
    Even pretending it were a police matter, aren’t even the police justified in killing a bank robber or hostage taker that was in the process of killing his hostages?
    These thugs are saying (in effect), “Give us what we want or we will kill you all,” and they are currently executing those threats. If this fact doesn’t qualify for being a ‘clear and imminent danger’ then someone please tell me what does?
    I even object to the use of the word ‘execute’ in this context. We are acting in self defense. These are not acts of execution. These are acts of justifiable self defense.

  • keith lembke says:

    I do hope you never are defined as an enemy of the state – because once a president is allowed to disregard one part of the constitution unilaterally, then the precedent is to disgard the other parts at will as well. As for us being “at war” with the terrorists” – what is the definition of a “terroroist”? Anyone who demonstrates against the government can be claimed as being terrorists because they are disrupting the population to be heard – thus they are “terrorizing” the population. By that particular defintion, the US citizenry have just given up their liberties in the name of security FOREVER.

  • jason says:

    But you told me in an e-mail conversation Adam Gadahn was on the kill list? Why the sudden change? Too funny. 😛

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hi “Jason,”
    Too funny indeed.
    As usual, you have reading comprehension issues. I never, ever said in this article that Gadahn isn’t on the hit list. What I said is that he isn’t the American in question that is referenced in the AP article. This is because the description doesn’t fit. Gadahn isn’t involved with IEDs, etc. He is a propagandist.
    So before you cork off, as you always do, try actually reading what I wrote.
    Oh, and get a spine and use your real name instead of hiding behind numerous fake names. That is pathetic.


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