WASHINGTON — The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that four American citizens –one of them a suspect in a North Carolina-based terrorist cell – have been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in Pakistan and Yemen. The disclosure to Congress comes on the eve of a major national security speech by President Barack Obama.
In conducting U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and its associated forces, the government has targeted and killed one American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, and is aware of the killing by U.S. drones of three others, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.
Al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric, was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen. Holder said three other Americans were killed by drones in counterterrorism operations since 2009 but were not targeted. The three are Samir Khan, who was killed in the same drone strike as al-Awlaki; al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a native of Denver, who also was killed in Yemen two weeks later; and Jude Kenan Mohammed, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
Mohammed was born in the United States and dropped out of Fuquay-Varina High School in 2006. He left the U.S. two years later.
He was among eight men with Triangle ties indicted on charges they raised money, stockpiled weapons and trained in preparation for jihadist attacks against American military and foreign targets. Seven of them were arrested in Johnston County in July 2009. Mohammed, who was believed to be in Pakistan at the time, was never found.
All seven of Mohammed's co-conspirators are serving prison time. Four were convicted and three, including alleged ringleader Daniel Patrick Boyd, pleaded guilty.
Mohammed was linked to what U.S. counter-terrorism officials called a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to set off a car bomb on bridges or tunnels in New York City or Washington around the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
In his letter Wednesday, Holder wrote, "Since entering office, the president has made clear his commitment to providing Congress and the American people with as much information as possible about our sensitive counterterrorism operations. To this end, the president has directed me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified."
"The administration is determined to continue these extensive outreach efforts to communicate with the American people," Holder wrote.