Pressure is growing on David Cameron to allow independent scrutiny of the intelligence behind a secret Government “hit list” of Isis jihadists to be targeted by British drones in Syria.
Downing Street have confirmed that Reyaad Khan was just one of a number of British born Isis fighters in Syria against whom military action had been authorised.
But the Government refused to publish the legal advice that they used to justify the attacks or the intelligence that formed the basis of the target list. They also refused to reveal who else was on the target list.
The Conservative chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, has called for an urgent investigation by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to scrutinise the Government’s actions.
“We need to understand whether the self defence case stands up in this,” he said.
“It is going to be difficult for us to do it without access to the intelligence, which is why I would support a full reference to the Intelligence and Security Committee to look at the precise circumstances of this particular strike.”
Privately Government sources admitted there was “considerable unease” among their own MPs following David Cameron’s statement on Monday that he had authorised the drone strike against Reyaad Khan.
However they insisted that Mr Cameron had acted in full accordance with advice from the Attorney General that such attacks would be legal on grounds of self-defence.
But validity of this advice was questioned by the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve who said targeted strikes would not be legal if they were used against an individual solely as “retribution” for past actions.
He told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee: “If you are going to use lethal force, you have to think very carefully about what it is you think you are doing and the reasons you are doing it. It is not acceptable to use lethal force to punish somebody for something they have done in the past. It is not lawful in domestic law either and bear in mind that domestic law applies to the actions of the UK Government, certainly in killing UK citizens anywhere.
“So in those circumstances the justification has to be self-defence: that you are stopping something happening and that you have good grounds for concluding that something is going to happen.
“It doesn’t mean that you have to wait for it to happen but it does mean that you have to be satisfied that there is a risk, an imminent risk – and of course you can base that in part on what the person might have been doing in the past – but you need something more than just their past misdeeds, or what you conclude are their past misdeeds, if you are going to take action.”
The former Director of Public Prosecutions and now Labour MP Kier Starmer added: “To state that lethal force should not be used without a proper legal justification is to state the obvious. To ensure that is the case... it is now incumbent on the Attorney General to publish both the legal basis for the decision to strike and the underlying policy now being followed.”
Kat Craig of legal charity Reprieve said the UK was in danger of repeating the “failed US model of secret strikes” in Yemen and Pakistan.
“The fact that David Cameron has bypassed Parliament to commit these covert strikes is deeply worrying – as is his refusal to share what legal advice he was given,” she said. “It’s not enough for the Prime Minister just to assert he was advised it was legal – Parliament and the public need to see that advice.”
Meanwhile the families of some of those Britons who have left the UK to fight alongside Isis in Syria said they were concerned that their relatives may be on target list. Ahmed Muthana, whose sons Aseel and Nasser are believed to have joined Isis said he believed it was only a matter of time before he was told that his sons had been killed.
“I am frightened my sons could be on a hitlist. I don’t think I will ever see my sons again,” he said.
Shahid Malik, former Labour Anti-Extremism Minister, and chairman of the national hatred monitoring body Tell Mama said the decision to use drones in Syria in this manner was worrying.
“In carrying out these strikes and the summary execution of two British citizens my fear is that our Government has crossed the Rubicon, and brought us to a very dangerous moment for the UK,” he said.
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman Tom Brake said he was seeking permission to ask an urgent question in the Commons calling on ministers to provide “information and clarification”.Reuse content