David Cameron faces scrutiny over drone strikes against Britons in Syria
Prime minister justifies "act of self-defence' in which UK citizens fighting alongside Isis were targeted by an unmanned aerial drone outside formal conflict
Nicholas Watt, Patrick Wintour and Vikram Dodd
8 September 2015
David Cameron is facing questions over Britain's decision to follow the US model of drone strikes after the prime minister confirmed that the government had authorised an unprecedented aerial strike in Syria that killed two Britons fighting alongside Islamic State (Isis).
Speaking to the Commons on its first day back after the summer break, Cameron justified the strikes on the grounds that Reyaad Khan, a 21-year-old from Cardiff, who had featured in a prominent Isis recruiting video last year,  represented a "clear and present danger".
Two other Isis fighters were killed in the attack on the Syrian city of Raqqa on 21 August, the first time that a UK prime minister has authorised the targeting of a UK citizen by an unmanned aerial drone outside a formal conflict. One of them, Ruhul Amin, 26, was also British. A third Briton, Junaid Hussain,  21, was killed by a separate US airstrike three days later as part of a joint operation.
Cameron disclosed the strikes in a dramatic afternoon statement which had originally been billed as a chance to outline his plans to take thousands of extra refugees from Syria. Downing Street announced on Monday morning that the statement, in which the prime minister confirmed that Britain would take 20,000 refugees over the next five years, would also cover a major counter-terrorism announcement.
The prime minister told MPs: "In an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria.
"In addition to Reyaad Khan who was the target of the strike, two [Isis] associates were also killed, one of whom -- Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were [Isis] fighters and I can confirm there were no civilian casualties."
The strikes were authorised by the prime minister at a meeting of senior members of the National Security Council some months ago after intelligence agencies presented evidence to ministers that Khan and Hussain were planning to attack commemorative events in the UK.
It is understood that the two events were the VE Day commemorations, presided over by the Queen at Westminster Abbey on 10 May, and a ceremony to mark the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Armed Forces Day on 27 June. The Sun reported on 27 June that Hussain had allegedly admitted instructing undercover reporters how to attack soldiers on Armed Forces Day.
The preparations took place over a period of months after the intelligence agencies briefed ministers. The prime minister then convened a meeting of senior members of the National Security Council attended by the attorney general Jeremy Wright who advised that a strike would be legal on the grounds of self defence.
Government sources said that ministers then "agreed an approach" -- a strike by an unmanned RAF Reaper drone -- and authorised intelligence agents and the RAF to identify the right moment to strike.
The prime minister said that both Hussain and Khan were involved in actively recruiting Isis sympathisers and "seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west". He added: "We should be under no illusion. Their intention was the murder of British citizens."
Downing Street dismissed suggestions that the prime minister had deliberately engineered UK involvement in the drone strikes rather than leaving them to the US, which is involved in regular operations over Syria, as a way of making the case for greater British involvement in action against Isis in the country. The prime minister's spokeswoman said he had sanctioned the operation after receiving specific intelligence that UK citizens were planning terror attacks on UK soil.
Cameron, who had said that he would seek parliament's approval before extending any British military action against Isis targets from Iraq to Syria, said he had acted in line with his commitments. He reserved the right to authorise strikes without a vote in the event of an emergency.
However Jeremy Corbyn said: "I have questioned the legal basis for the use of drones. Urgent consideration now needs to be given to the appropriate process by which attacks such as this one are sanctioned, on what evidence and on what basis of law."
Corbyn also said he was writing to the prime minister over his failure to accept his call for an international summit to address the Syrian refugee crisis. He said: "Further to the prime minister's inadequate response in the chamber ... I am now writing to offer the prime minister the opportunity to explain his inadequate response to my request for an urgent summit involving the UN, [European Union] and the US on Syria and the refugee crisis."
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said he believed the prime minister was justified in authorising the strike which killed Khan. But Davis called for such strikes to be subject to judicial oversight.
"It is very likely that there was strong enough evidence to take this action as a pre-emptive self defence action. What I am concerned about is the possibility that this translates or becomes routinised into something like the Americans' position," he said.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: "There is a very real risk that we are basically following the US model of secret strikes. They can often be counter-productive as well as illegal. On this occasion the prime minister has assured us that he was advised it was legal. It is right that parliament should see that advice."
Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chairman of the Treasury select committee, called for an investigation by parliament's intelligence and security committee (ISC). "The ISC exists to scrutinise decisions like this," Tyrie said. "As soon as they are created [the process to appoint members to the committee in the new parliament] they should do so."
The committee would be allowed to see the intelligence that prompted Cameron to authorise the strike. He could face questions about whether the strikes amounted to killings of UK citizens outside the UK jurisdiction in an echo of the shooting of IRA members in Gibraltar by the SAS in 1988.
There may also be questions about the delay in the announcement which means that the chair of the UN security council, who has to be informed, was only alerted on Monday.
Labour's interim leader, Harriet Harman -- who was briefed on the strikes by the prime minister for the first time on Monday morning -- said no one should be in any doubt about the threat posed by Isis. But she called for the attack to be reviewed by Britain's independent reviewer of counter-terror laws and by the ISC.
Lord McDonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said the killing of Khan was legal. "I think it is lawful and proportionate to target a British citizen who has travelled abroad to join an armed group which is targeting Britain and British citizens and is on record himself as having that purpose. I think it is appropriate to invoke the principle of self-defence and to target him," he said.