Obama Administration (Finally) Acknowledges Killing Anwar Al-Alwaki, Three Other Americans

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama Administration has sent a letter to Congress finally acknowledging that the United States has killed four American citizens in drone strikes, including Anwar al-Alwaki:

WASHINGTON — One day before President Obama is due to deliver a major speech on national security, his administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged that the United States had killed four American citizens in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.

In a letter to Congressional leaders obtained by The New York Times, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. disclosed that the administration had deliberately killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen.

The American responsibility for Mr. Awlaki’s death has been widely reported, but the administration had until now refused to confirm or deny it.

The letter also said that the United States had killed three other Americans: Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike; Mr. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was also killed in Yemen; and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a strike in Pakistan.

“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” Mr. Holder wrote.

While rumors of Mr. Mohammed’s death had appeared in local news reports in Raleigh, N.C., where he lived, his death had not been confirmed by the United States government until Wednesday.

According to former acquaintances of Mr. Mohammed in North Carolina, he appears to have been killed in a November 2011 drone strike in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal area. Mr. Mohammed’s wife, whom he had met and married in Pakistan, subsequently called his mother in North Carolina to tell her of his death, the friends say.

Mr. Holder, in a speech at Northwestern University Law School last year, laid out the administration’s basic legal thinking that American citizens who are deemed to be operational terrorists, who pose an “imminent threat of violent attack” and whose capture is infeasible may be targeted. That abstract legal thinking — including an elastic definition of what counts as “imminent” — was further laid out in an unclassified white paper provided to Congress last year, which was leaked earlier this year.

But Mr. Holder’s letter went further in discussing the death of Mr. Awlaki in particular, an operation the administration had previously refused to publicly acknowledge. He said it was not Mr. Awlaki’s words urging violent attacks against Americans that led the United States to target him, but direct actions in planning attacks.

Mr. Holder alleged that Mr. Awlaki not only “planned” the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009, a claim that has been widely discussed in court documents and elsewhere, but also “played a key role” in an October 2010 plot to bomb cargo planes bound for the United States, including taking “part in the development and testing” of the bombs.

“Moreover, information that remains classified to protect sensitive sources and methods evidences Awlaki’s involvement in the planning of numerous other plots against U.S. and Western interests and makes clear he was continuing to plot attacks when he was killed,” Mr. Holder wrote.

Does anyone really believe that the others, in addition to, al-Alwaki wasn’t specifically targeted? I seriously don’t.

Update: Here’s the letter

Letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Senator Patrick Leahy regarding drone assassinations by dmataconis

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    Does anyone really believe that al-Alwaki wasn’t specifically targeted? I seriously don’t.

    Why should you? The letter states the exact opposite of that.

    Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa’ida and itsassociated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.

  2. NoZe says:

    Ccording to the article, Al-Awlaki was deliberately targeted, but the others were not.

  3. Yes, I realize that last statement didn’t correctly communicate what I wanted to say. Should have reviewed it before hitting post. I’ve fixed it.

  4. Caj says:

    I’m sorry but who cares if they are Americans killed by drones if they are plotting or have been involved in acts of terrorism towards the US? A terrorist is a terrorist. I think we need to fear more from home grown terrorists than we do from someone outside the US! So called patriots don’t turn against real patriots. They have no rights as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    @Caj: What evidence do you have that any of these people executed were terrorists?

  6. @Ben Wolf: The CIA said Al-Awaki was. The others were not targeted deliberately, but were killed in strikes nonetheless. I have no evidence any of those guys participated in terrorism and you have none that says they didn’t.

    But for Al-Awaki, either he was a terrorist or he wanted people to think he was. His crimes are well-documented and I urge you to make some other argument besides “How do you know he was a terrorist?” The list is long, my friend……

    Better to focus on the citizenship angle again, which…..let’s face it…..has lost at least some of its appeal after Boston.

  7. Caj says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    What evidence do you have that any of them were not?

  8. mantis says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    What evidence do you have that any of these people executed were terrorists?

    I don’t have any, but I also don’t have evidence Osama bin Laden was a terrorist. I still believe he was.

  9. Andy says:

    It’s not like the Yemen branch of AQ was unaware they were being targeted. While it’s unfortunate that those Americans were killed, they chose to locate themselves among people and groups the US is actively fighting.

    Unintentional killing of people is always a part of combat. I doubt there’s been a war where the US hasn’t accidentally killed its own citizens though typically they have been our own troops either in friendly fire incidents or PoW’s.

  10. bill says:

    who cares, they needed killin! and we all know they we targeted, don’t mess with big brother.
    of course the dreaded “plausible deniability” is in place, as it is for just about everything these days.

  11. Stone tools says:

    I know Doug was anxious too get started, but hey let’s just wait till tomorrow to start the DRONEZ wankfest.

  12. Kevin says:

    And your point is. Poor Obama is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. The deceased, targeted or not, have declared war on the West and the USA. Sorry to say that makes you a target. Sorry for the collateral deaths. You picked the wrong group to hang with. And citizen of the USA or not, you decided to pursue the violent path. So BANG! You’re dead now. Enjoy your 72 virgins. And if a Republican President pursued these policies – oh wait, almost forgot….he started them.