In my post Refugees, Migrants and Terrorists, I talked about the British citizens who have left this country and made their way to Syria to fight alongside the jihadists of ISIS, and now two of them have hit the news having been killed.
It would appear that Reyaad Khan, originally from Cardiff and Ruhul Amin, originally from Aberdeen were hit and killed during a precision airstrike by a Royal Air Force drone near Raqqa in Syria on August 21st. Both had been raised in the UK and both had then travelled to join ISIS. There is also no doubt about whether or not they were radicalised and had joined ISIS as both had appeared in a propaganda/recruiting video released by ISIS in June 2014 and entitled “There is No Life Without Jihad”.
However, it would appear that rather than the political response being “two terrorists killed, oh dear, how sad, never mind”, there has been a big outcry by certain politicians about whether their deaths are actually legal or not.
The whole argument seems to rest on whether the killing of these two should be classed as extra-judicial killings or not. At that time that it was announced in Parliament, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, stated that the reason that this airstrike had been carried out was that British Security Services had discovered that Khan, the target of the attack, was plotting to carry out attacks on British soil, particularly against "high-profile public commemorations” that were taking place during the summer. Amin was killed as he was in the same vehicle as Khan at the time of the strike. The fact that Khan was plotting terror attacks in the UK, Mr Cameron argued, made the strike justified on the grounds of self-defence.
However, in 2013, the British Parliament voted against strikes in Syria, and there are many who believe that this action, because it was carried out inside Syria, not only ignores the wishes of parliament but also suggests that the British Government feels that it has the right to carry out killings of British citizens that may pose a threat to the UK, even if they travel abroad. Furthermore, there has been criticism that this drone strike mirrors the US policy, one which some American officials believe has failed. On top of this, friends of the Khan family have also come forward to demand the “truth of the incident”.
So where does the Government stand legally? It would appear that the strike was carried out following advice from the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, which stated that the strike was legal. But the ex-Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, believes that the decision may be open to challenge. In fact, one person whom I heard on the Radio 4 Today programme last Tuesday (not sure who it was although it may have been Dominic Grieve) stated that he believed that the family may well be able to sue the Government.
The British Government’s justification for the strikes rests on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which provides the right of a country to act in self-defence against an armed attack, which it is claimed that Khan was actively plotting to carry out. But there has also been a slight distraction from this, which those who feel that the strike was not justified have cited. Matthew Rycroft, the British Ambassador to the United Nations, has written to the United Nations Security Council justifying the strike on the grounds that it was part of the collective defence of Iraq. This has been approved by Parliament, as in September 2014 British MPs, although voting against strikes in Syria a year earlier, voted to approve air strikes by British Forces against ISIS targets in Iraq. The detractors have therefore claimed that the Government is altering its legal justification for the strike because the initial justification was not legal.
For most people the fact that these two terrorists, for that is what they were as members of a terrorist organisation, were killed whist thousands of miles away in Syria means nothing. If it prevents acts of terror being carried out in this country, marvellous.
I am aware that there will be people who believe that they should have been apprehended and brought back to this country to face a legal trial, but the possibility of that happening was extremely unlikely. When dealing with ISIS, we are not dealing with rational people; we are dealing with religious zealots who believe that they are justified in cutting the heads off people who don’t follow the same religion as them, or even the same branch of the same religion. They do not follow the rule of International Law and are certainly not signatories to the Geneva Conventions, so anyone entering Syria to try and apprehend these people can be certain that, if unsuccessful and caught by these barbarians, they will find themselves being publicly murdered in some unspeakable way, as happened with Muath al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot.
The British Government has found itself in a very difficult position. It is being criticised for killing these two, but what would have happened if this step hadn’t been taken, there had been an atrocity carried out in the UK and it had later emerged that the Government not only knew where the perpetrator was, but had had the opportunity to stop him and hadn’t? There would, rightly, have been a huge outcry.
As for the family suing, I think that this is ridiculous. There has been much made by friends of the Khan family about how Reyaad Khan was a “straight A” student who wanted to be the first Asian Prime Minister, but they have said very little about his Twitter boasts of taking part in mass executions. If they hadn’t wanted him to get killed, perhaps they should have spent more time preventing him from becoming radicalised in the first place.
One person I know has suggested that rather than the family suing the Government, perhaps it should be the other way round, with the Government recouping the cost of drone fuel, the pilot’s wages and ordnance used etc. from the family.