Big Debate: Was the killing of Reyaad Khan legal and justified?

David Cameron has faced criticism about the killing of the Cardiff-born Islamist Picture: PA/Press A

David Cameron has faced criticism about the killing of the Cardiff-born Islamist Picture: PA/Press Association Images - Credit: PA WIRE

This week we ask if David Cameron was right to order the killing of a Cardiff-born ISIS recruit in Syria.

Left, Robert Ferguson of Newham Stop the War Coalition and, right, Robin Simcox of the Henry Jackson

Left, Robert Ferguson of Newham Stop the War Coalition and, right, Robin Simcox of the Henry Jackson Society - Credit: Archant

The killing of Reyaad Khan, a Cardiff-born ISIS recruit, with a drone attack in Syria, has divided commentators on Britain’s fight against Islamism. The kill, which was revealed on September 7 as having occurred on August 21, has seen David Cameron accused of violating Khan’s right to a fair trial as a British citizen. Others believe a more robust approach to groups like ISIS is needed, citing Cameron’s claim that Khan was plotting to carry out an act of terror on British streets. So this week we ask: Was the killing of Reyaad Khan legal and justified?

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Robert Ferguson, Newham Stop the War Coalition

The extrajudicial assassination of Reyaad Khan, the British recruit to ISIS, has been trumpeted as an act of self-defence aimed at protecting the lives of British citizens in the UK.

There are a number of grounds for dismissing this claim.

First, the government and its spin doctors are going into contortions to argue that laws against acts of murder on the streets of London somehow justify killing by remote control in a Syrian war zone; a claim exposed by the refusal to furnish any proof of “imminent threat”.

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Second, the history of drone attacks and “signature strikes” in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East is that they draw in more recruits and lead to increased attacks.

Third, the real intention, is not to protect but to disguise the government’s disregard for the loss of life and rise in terror caused by our wars and interventions across the Middle East. Meanwhile the refugees are left to drown in the Mediterranean or languish in squalor in camps starved of aid.

The targeting of Reyaad Khan, however reactionary and brutal he may have been, is simply a prelude to the bombing of Syria. This can only further deepen sectarian division and fuel terror, both in the region and Europe.

Finally, there is another target: the Muslim community at home and the opposition to more wars. The government’s planed “counter-extremism” legislation will further demonise Muslims, and aim to intimidate into silence those who blame government foreign policy for the rise in terror.

However, the government’s wars abroad and promotion of state Islamophobia through measures such as the Counter Extremism Bill and “Prevent” can be stopped. The astounding result for Jeremy Corbyn, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, and the 50,000 who marched on Saturday declaring “refugees welcome here” show the potential to turn the tide.

Robin Simcox, Henry Jackson Society

Under Article 51 of the United Nations, states have a right to self-defence.

That is what the targeted airstrike carried out by the UK government against Reyaad Khan was: self-defence, with a legal stamp of approval given by the UK’s Attorney General.

Khan was a member of ISIS, the brutal terrorist group.

From his base in Syria, he was attempting to organise attacks here in the UK.

The government needed to act, but the options on the table were limited.

We have no ground forces in Syria to detain Khan. It was not possible to arrest him – the government can hardly send a couple of officers from the London Met into ISIS-controlled Raqqa, track down Khan and try and read him his rights.

What’s more, Khan showed no interest in coming back to the UK of his own volition, so could not have been picked up at the border.

Yet the intelligence agencies believed Khan posed a “direct threat” to the UK. So an airstrike was the last resort.

Khan’s citizenship was not an automatic protection from this.

If there was a heavily armed terrorist gunning people down on the streets of London we would expect the authorities to do everything in their power to stop him, regardless of nationality.

The same principle applies.

Furthermore, while Parliament has so far only voted in support of airstrikes in Iraq, as opposed to Syria, Cameron has previously stated that he would not be afraid to act there if “there were a critical British national interest at stake”.

Khan’s plotting seems to have ensured that he met this threshold.

So the legality was not in doubt. This meant the Prime Minister faced a choice: allow Khan to carry on trying to kill people in this country, or kill Khan.

He chose the latter.

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