David Davis comments on the Government’s drone targeting ‘kill list’


As reported in the Guardian:
The ‘kill list’: RAF drones have been hunting UK jihadis for months

Unmanned RAF aerial drones armed with Hellfire missiles have been patrolling the skies over Syria for months seeking to target British jihadis on a “kill list” drawn up by senior ministers on the UK National Security Council shortly after the election.

As the defence secretary Michael Fallon said ministers would not hesitate to approve further strikes against jihadis who have their own kill list, Jeremy Corbyn led a cross-party group of MPs who raised doubts about the change in strategy.

Corbyn said: “There has to be a legal basis for what’s going on. This is war without parliamentary approval. And in fact parliament specifically said no to this war in September 2013.”

Senior Liberal Democrats suggested that the RAF drone strike, which led to the killing of two British Islamic State members on 21 August, went beyond anything that would have been approved when Nick Clegg sat on the NSC. “The hawks have been let loose and are trying to test the boundaries of what is possible,” one former Lib Dem coalition source said.

Their comments came after it emerged that the kill list with the names of several British jihadis was drawn up at a meeting of senior NSC members, chaired by David Cameron, which approved the drone strike in Syria. It is understood that the kill list includes Mohammed Emwazi who is believed to be the extremist in several Islamic State videos filmed beheading captives.

The Guardian understands that the government, which had previously said that unarmed RAF drones were patrolling the skies of Syria to gather intelligence on Isis targets, approved the arming of the drones following the May general election, which was won by the Conservatives.

Pilots flying the drones from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire sought out targets on the kill list months before the strikes but held back to avoid causing civilian casualties.

The prime minister told MPs on Monday that Reyaad Khan was killed in an airstrike on 21 August as he travelled in a vehicle near Raqqah in Syria. Ruhul Amin, an Isis associate, was also killed. Junaid Hussain, another Briton, was killed in a US airstrike three days later as part of a joint operation after intelligence suggested that Khan and Hussain had been plotting to attack the VJ Day ceremony, presided over by the Queen on 15 August, and an Armed Forces Day ceremony to mark the death of Lee Rigby.

Fallon indicated that the government was preparing the ground for further attacks when he accused Isis of having its own kill list. He told Good Morning Britain on ITV1: “They have a kill list, they have plans to mount a series of attacks on Britain and our job is to identify those attacks identify, the terrorists and where we can forestall them.

“But if you’re asking me would we hesitate to take similar action again today, tomorrow, next week, absolutely not, we would not hesitate.”

The defence secretary said the strikes, which were approved by the attorney general Jeremy Wright, were legal and planned with meticulous care. He added: “I’m relieved with the action we took that we were able to disrupt this kind of terrorist plotting. We set out the rules of engagement.

“For an attack like this, it was meticulously planned, it didn’t happen overnight, it involved hours of surveillance and a great deal of planning to comply with the rules of engagement that we set that there should be no civilian casualties or other damage. This attack was successfully carried out and I think we owe a debt of gratitude to those who did it to help keep our country safe.”

The drone strikes are likely to be investigated by parliament’s intelligence and security committee, whose membership is likely to be announced by the prime minister on Wednesday.

Related: How UK government decided to kill Reyaad Khan
The announcement will be made after a warning from senior Labour figures that the three former Labour ministers nominated by Harriet Harman to sit on the committee – Gisela Stuart, George Howarth and Fiona Mactaggart – could be replaced by Jeremy Corbyn. Keith Simpson, a former parliamentary aide to William Hague, and Mark Field head the Tory nominations. Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, is also tipped to join the committee.

The ISC would have access to the intelligence that persuaded ministers to order the drone strike that killed the British citizens. Downing Street insists that the drone strikes are designed to achieve one or both of two objectives – to disrupt attacks on British soil and to prevent attacks on British citizens in the UK or abroad. The attacks would not be approved as punishment for an attack.

But the committee members may ask whether the prime minister’s decision to approve the first aerial drone strike on a UK citizen outside a formal conflict marks a change of strategy.

The prime minister said in the last parliament that he would seek the approval of MPs before extending airstrikes against Isis targets from Iraq to Syria. But he always reserved the right to launch military action without parliamentary approval in the event of an emergency – a standard position approved by Nick Clegg.

However, Lib Dem sources suggested that the drone strikes last month marked a shift in strategy. One source recalled David Cameron shutting down Iain Duncan Smith at a cabinet meeting when he suggested bypassing parliament to launch airstrikes.

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, raised concerns about the kill list.

He said: “They appear to have now a kill list policy. The implication of that is that there is an explicit policy to do it which is a major change from anything we have done previously. It does look unfortunately like the US policy which is ill considered.

“Frankly, if such a policy exists they really ought to come to the house and report on it. They can perfectly properly turn round and say we are not going to comment on individual cases. But actually the principle of what they are doing is a matter the house should consider.”