Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has confirmed the deaths of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, the young American propagandist killed alongside him in a U.S. drone strike late last month.
Al-Qaeda has also criticized the Obama administration for killing U.S. citizens, saying doing so “contradicts” American law.
“Where are what they keep talking about regarding freedom, justice, human rights and respect of freedoms?!” the statement says, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist Web sites.
The Obama administration has spoken in broad terms about its authority to use military and paramilitary force against al-Qaeda and associated forces, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would find itself hard-pressed to claim the moral high ground in the debate over the killing of Awlaki and Khan.
But the killing of two U.S. citizens has prompted outrage among civil liberties groups, as well as a debate in legal circles about the basis for the administration's position.
The Washington Post’s Peter Finn reported after the strike that Awlaki’s killing had been authorized in a secret Justice Department memo, a revelation that later prompted senior Democratic senators and scholars to call for its release. Over the weekend, The New York Times quoted people who have read the document as saying that the memo found it would be lawful to kill the cleric only if it were not possible to take him alive. The memo, the Times said, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Awlaki’s case.
Among those who have raised legal objections to the strike: Samir Khan’s family in Charlotte, N.C.
In a statement, the family said that, Khan was a “law-abiding citizen of the United States” and “was never implicated of any crime.”
“Was this style of execution the only solution?” the family said. “Why couldn’t there have been a capture and trial?”
Khan’s relatives also described themselves as “appalled by the indifference shown to us by our government,” saying they had not been contacted by a U.S. official.
After the release of the statement, the Charlotte Observer reported, an official from the State Department called the family last week to offer the government’s condolences.
“They were very apologetic [for not calling the family sooner] and offered condolences,” Jibril Hough, a family spokesman, told the Observer.
More on the Awlaki killing: