The American al Qaeda member who the Obama administration is considering killing through a drone strike is likely a bombmaker with little public profile who has been linked to the deaths of fellow citizens in Afghanistan, experts say.
A former U.S. security official told NBC News that the suspect is based in lawless western Pakistan, where missiles fired by American drones have slain dozens of suspected al Qaeda members since 2004.
“[Obama] said that when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against the United States, and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should not serve as a shield,” [press secretary Jay] Carney told reporters.
The key phrase in Carney's statement is "actively plotting," an indication that the target would be someone with military training and experience, as opposed to a spokesman or mouthpiece for the terror group.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said that since 2009, the United States had “specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen,” Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Al-Awlaki may have masterminded a plan to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies and impacts public opinion overseas. Moreover, our laws constrain the power of the President, even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.
Now, this week, I authorized the declassification of this action and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims that have been made. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the Government to target and kill any U.S. citizen with a drone or with a shotgun, without due process; nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
That's who Anwar Awlaki was; he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot, but we couldn't. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.