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Holder says drone strikes since 2009 have killed four U.S. citizens

On the eve of a major address by President Barack Obama on his counterterrorism policy, the Obama administration revealed Wednesday that drone strikes since 2009 had killed four Americans overseas – one of whom, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was targeted in Yemen because he’d planned and was planning terrorist attacks on the United States – principally the plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Eve 2009.

Three others who were not “specifically targeted” were killed in circumstances the administration did not explain.

The revelation came in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to congressional leaders and chairmen of key congressional committees in which Holder said, “the president has directed me to disclose to you certain information” about the number of Americans killed by U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of areas of active combat such as Afghanistan.

Holder said the U.S. government was “aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period (since 2009): Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.”

Jude Kenan Mohammed was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and the FBI notice said, “On July 22, 2009, a Federal Grand Jury in North Carolina indicted Jude Kenan Mohammad for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim, and injure persons in a foreign country. Mohammad is at large and a federal warrant was issued by the United States District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, for his arrest.”

The FBI notice also said, “Mohammad speaks English and very limited Pashtun. Mohammad is believed to be in Pakistan.”

Jonathan Ernst / Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

On al-Aulaqi, Holder said, “it was al-Aulaqi's actions -- and, in particular, his direct personal involvement in the continued planning and execution of terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland -- that made him a lawful target and led the United States to take action.” Holder also told congressional leaders that secret information proves “al-Aulaqi's involvement in the planning of numerous plots against U.S. and Western interests and makes clear he was continuing to plot attacks when he was killed.” The origins of this information are being kept secret to protect U.S. intelligence methods and sources.Holder’s letter said, “Today's disclosure builds on the Administration's effort to pursue greater transparency around our counter-terrorism operations, including the President's commitment in this year's State of the Union. This disclosure was also intended to coincide with the speech the President will give tomorrow, in which he will discuss our broader counter-terrorism strategy.”

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