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Was Reyaad Khan killed because of a threat to Britain or to Iraq?

14 September 2015

4:54 PM

14 September 2015

4:54 PM

Was the drone strike that killed Reyaad Khan authorised because he posed a threat to Britain, or because he posed a threat to Iraq? Last week, David Cameron told the House of Commons that the strike took place because ‘there was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him’. His statement to MPs, and the briefing that lobby journalists received, was about the threat that Khan posed to British citizens. Cameron said:

‘With these issues of national security and with current prosecutions ongoing, the House will appreciate that there are limits on the details I can provide. However, let me set out for the House the legal basis for the action we took, the processes we followed and the implications of this action for our wider strategy in countering the threat from ISIL. First, I am clear that the action we took was entirely lawful. The Attorney General was consulted and was clear that there would be a clear legal basis for action in international law. We were exercising the UK’s inherent right to self-defence. There was clear evidence of these individuals planning and directing armed attacks against the UK. These were part of a series of actual and foiled attempts to attack the UK and our allies, and given the prevailing circumstances in Syria, the airstrike was the only feasible means of effectively disrupting the attacks that had been planned and directed. It was therefore necessary and proportionate for the individual self-defence of the United Kingdom. The United Nations charter requires members to inform the President of the Security Council of activity conducted in self-defence, and today the UK permanent representative will write to the President to do just that.’

When asked about the strike last Tuesday, his spokeswoman said:

’As the PM set out yesterday, these two individuals, Khan and Hussain were involved in directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, it’s thanks to the work of the agencies and their ability to disrupt attempts, but of course you know as I said there were attacks planned and this was about taking an approach to protect us from that threat.’


But on Friday, the British Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft wrote in his letter to the Security Council that the attack was also lawful as part of a ‘collective self-defence of Iraq’. This wasn’t something the Prime Minister mentioned last week, and his official spokeswoman had focused on the threat of an attack on British soil. Today the spokeswoman responded to that:

‘I think it’s usual when you write to inform the UN that you note the different legal bases there are on it. We have been clear that they are both self-defence and in the collective defence of Iraq and so the position set out in the letter is fully consistent with the position we were setting out last week and the PM set out in the House.’

When asked why the collective defence of Iraq wasn’t raised, the spokeswoman said:

‘The reason behind the strike which is what most people were asking me about was because it was in our national security and in our self-defence and to protect us from a terrorist threat and the legal basis for that is self-defence. So…’

One of the problems, of course, is that the intelligence on what specifically led to this strike isn’t shared, and neither is the legal basis. But it’s odd that the collective defence of Iraq wasn’t raised last week.


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