RAF drone kills two British men in Syria

Two British jihadi fighters from Islamic State have been killed in an RAF drone strike in Syria. Was this a perfectly legal killing or simply an immoral assassination?

They did not know they were being watched. But as Reyaad Khan and Rahul Amin travelled through Raqqa, the city which Islamic State fighters have declared their capital, they were about to die. Two pilots pressed a button 3,000 miles away, sending a missile towards them and killing them instantly.

Khan, a 21-year-old from Penarth near Cardiff, and Amin, a 26-year-old from Aberdeen, had been killed by their own government. The missile had come from a drone, flying 50,000 feet above their heads and controlled by the RAF. Their pilots were following the order of Prime Minister David Cameron.

The UK had used similar aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan previously, but never before had British warplanes deliberately killed British citizens in a foreign country. Explaining the incident to the House of Commons this week, Mr Cameron said that taking the decision to do so was ‘necessary and justified’. Khan, he said, had been an Islamic State recruiter who was ‘seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks’ against western countries including Britain; Amin had been a fellow fighter.

The two young Brits had both travelled to Syria in order to fight for Islamic State after developing radical views. Before their deaths, they appeared in a propaganda video for the group and Khan posted messages on social media boasting of the people he had killed.

Already a furious row has broken out over British involvement in the struggle against Islamic State. British planes have been involved in bombing raids in Iraq since September 2014 with the approval of parliament, but there has been no such approval for strikes in Syria. Taking action in Syria is especially controversial because parliament rejected a government proposal to take action against the country’s Assad government in 2013. And some of the government’s opponents are questioning whether the action was legally justified.

Others are more strident. Membership of a community is a privilege, not a right, to be earned through mutual respect. These thugs stood directly opposed to British values. They did not deserve to be considered as British at all.

Strike one?

Critics such as Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty International UK, are shocked. Governments do not even have the right to take their own citizens’ passports away, let alone kill them without trial. This was an assassination.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s response is that this was ‘a perfectly legal act of self-defence’. Taking the life of a fellow countryman is the hardest decision of all, but sometimes a necessary one. There was no chance of arresting these killers or taking other action which could protect people.

You Decide

  1. Should governments ever kill their own people?
  2. Is membership of a community a right or a privilege?


  1. Write a short speech in response to the question: Did the government do the right thing?
  2. Write a contract outlining the relationship between the government and its citizens. What responsibilities do we each have, and what responsibilities does the government have to us? Once they are done, present them to the class and discuss whether you agree with each other’s work.

Some People Say...

“It’s harder to heal than it is to kill.”

Tamora Pierce

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this mean the British government can kill me?
Only in extreme circumstances, where they can argue that there was no alternative to doing so: the government’s first duty is to protect its citizens. But even the right to life is not absolute, and a citizen might be killed if they are posing a threat to the lives of others — for example, an armed policeman could kill someone if they thought they posed an imminent danger to someone else.
I’m worried that someone I know is becoming radicalised. What should I do?
Support for Islamic State is still relatively rare, but if you are concerned, the best thing to do first is to speak to an adult you trust. They might decide to call 101, the police non-emergency number, if they think there is good reason to do so.

Word Watch

The United States has carried out hundreds of strikes by these unmanned aircraft since 2002 in countries including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Mr Cameron said that Khan had been involved in plans to launch high-profile terrorist attacks, including commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War which took place over the summer. Reports suggested that this related specifically to the commemorations for the anniversary of Victory over Japan (VJ) Day on 15 August, when the Queen was in attendance.
Assad government
The Syrian government is one of Islamic State’s opponents, although many other groups are also fighting for control of the country. The UK government proposed action after evidence emerged that the Assad government had used chemical weapons against its own people, but MPs voted against the motion.
The government asks others to look after its citizens within a British passport. The inside page calls on those who see it ‘to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary’.

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