The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in Pakistan and Yemen. The disclosure, in a letter from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, comes on the eve of a major national security speech by President Barack Obama.
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, who also was killed in Yemen two weeks later; and Jude Kennan Mohammed, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
Holder said that only Anwar al-Awlaki was “specifically targeted.” Khan was known to have been killed by the strike that targeted Awlaki, while the 16-year-old was killed in what senior administration officials described as a “mistake,” when he was in the company of another targeted individual shortly after his father’s death.
Mohammad was indicted in 2009 by a federal grand jury in North Carolina, where he had lived near Raleigh. The indictment said he was believed to have left the United States for Pakistan in 2008 to “engage in violent jihad.”
Reached in North Carolina Wednesday, Mohammad’s mother, Elena Mohammad, said she had been aware for some time that her son had been killed in a drone strike, but was told by people in Pakistan, not by U.S. authorities. Her ex-husband is Pakistani.
Mohammad said she had no details on when or where her son was killed. She also said she had no interest in discussing her son’s past.
“I dealt with that and I don’t have to deal with it anymore because it’s already over with,” she said in the phone interview. “So whatever transpired I don’t want it back in my life anymore. It’s gone. There are no questions. I don’t have to hear any authorities; the FBI has finished coming to my house. It’s over. That’s it.”
During Obama's scheduled counterterrorism policy speech on Thursday, he will discuss his belief that it's in the best interests of the nation to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It is not clear whether or not the President will discuss the transfer of detainees, or the repatriation of those cleared for release during Thursday's speech.
Holder said in his letter, that Obama “has made clear his commitment to providing Congress and the American people with as much information as possible about our sensitive counterterrorism operations.”
You can read Holder's letter here.