Fal­lon: Bri­tons with Isis are ‘le­git­i­mate tar­gets’

Re­port claims drone strike killed mother of boy, 12 De­fence sec­re­tary re­fuses to con­firm death in Syria

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Pa­trick Win­tour Di­plo­matic ed­i­tor

Bri­tish na­tion­als fight­ing with Is­lamic State in Syria were a “le­git­i­mate tar­get” for drone strikes, the de­fence sec­re­tary said yes­ter­day, as he re­fused to con­firm whether he be­lieved re­ports that Sally Jones had died in a US strike.

Isis fight­ers were at risk of be­ing hit “ev­ery hour of ev­ery day”, Michael Fal­lon said at a For­eign Of­fice press con­fer­ence.

The Sun re­ported on Wed­nes­day that the CIA had told the UK that Jones, who trav­elled to Syria in 2013, was killed by a Preda­tor drone strike near the Iraq bor­der in June. It said news of her death was not made pub­lic amid fears that her 12-yearold son, Jojo, may also have been killed.

US mil­i­tary spokes­men and US sources also re­fused to con­firm whether Jones had been killed, or whether her son was with her at the time.

Fal­lon said: “If you are a Bri­tish na­tional in Iraq or Syria and if you have cho­sen to fight for Daesh – an il­le­gal or­gan­i­sa­tion that is pre­par­ing and in­spir­ing ter­ror at­tacks on our streets – then you have made your­self a le­git­i­mate tar­get and you run the risk ev­ery hour of ev­ery day of be­ing on the wrong end of an RAF or a United States mis­sile.”

Although deaths by drone strikes in Syria are hard to con­firm, given the in­abil­ity to col­lect ev­i­dence on the ground, there is con­fi­dence that Jones has died. It is un­der­stood that the strike was not based on in­tel­li­gence re­quir­ing the spe­cific sanc­tion of the prime min­is­ter, Theresa May.

David Cameron, May’s pre­de­ces­sor, did give sanc­tion for strikes against UK for­eign fight­ers in Syria.

Jones, dubbed “the white widow” by some in the press, was a reg­u­lar pro­pa­gan­dist on so­cial me­dia. She had more than 20 han­dles on Twit­ter but there has been no ac­tiv­ity from her in re­cent months.

The UK and US are work­ing closely in Syria, specif­i­cally in the cam­paign to free Raqqa from Isis. The city, in north-west Syria, is now the home to fewer than 400 ji­hadists and pos­si­bly as few as 5,000 ci­ti­zens.

Jones was be­lieved to have been in Raqqa, but seek­ing to flee over the Iraq bor­der. Raqqa has been sub­ject to a steady coali­tion bom­bard­ment, and the chances of her sur­vival there were al­ways go­ing to be min­i­mal.

Although the US for­ward base for its Syria op­er­a­tions is in Qatar, drone strikes are op­er­ated from the US and launched on the ba­sis of hu­man and sig­nal in­tel­li­gence from in­side Syria. Some of it comes from the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, the fight­ers op­er­at­ing with US air sup­port to free Raqqa from Isis con­trol.

Bri­tish drone pi­lots op­er­ate Reaper and Preda­tor drones out of RAF Wadding­ton in Lin­colnshire and Creech US air force base in Ne­vada.

By law, Jones’s son is too young to be deemed a le­git­i­mate tar­get, and Bri­tish sources have not con­firmed if they know he is dead. If his mother was killed while in a ve­hi­cle, it would have been hard to iden­tify if she was trav­el­ling with her son. But if she was at­tempt­ing to es­cape over the Iraq bor­der, it is un­likely Jones would have left him be­hind.

Col Ryan Dil­lon, spokesman for Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve, the Bagh­dad-based coali­tion of anti-Isis forces, re­fused to con­firm her death, but said coali­tion at­tacks on Isis did not dis­crim­i­nate by na­tion­al­ity.

The UK gov­ern­ment is aware that there is an in­tense le­gal de­bate about the tar­get­ing of Bri­tons fight­ing for Isis in Syria. Six Bri­tish ci­ti­zens have been killed by drones, and pre­vi­ous par­lia­men­tary in­quiries into the le­gal­ity of such strikes has led to crit­i­cism about the vague­ness of the UK’s po­si­tion on com­bat rules in ar­eas out­side of armed con­flict.

There are also doubts about the ex­tent to which the Bri­tish mil­i­tary can be legally li­able for the spe­cific ac­tions of al­lies if the al­lies are act­ing in con­cert with the UK.

In Oc­to­ber last year, par­lia­ment’s joint com­mit­tee on hu­man rights crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for re­fus­ing to ex­plain how tar­gets were se­lected, whether there was an “im­pos­si­bil­ity of cap­ture” test and whether the laws of war were be­ing mis­ap­plied out­side recog­nised armed con­flicts.

Bri­tain has de­fended its po­si­tion by say­ing strikes are jus­ti­fied if it be­lieves at­tacks on the UK are im­mi­nent. The spe­cific le­gal ad­vice on which the UK gov­ern­ment acts has not been pub­lished.

‘If you have cho­sen to fight for Daesh you have made your­self a le­git­i­mate tar­get’

Sally Jones, an English mother who once played in a punk band be­fore con­vert­ing to Is­lam, has re­port­edly been killed by a drone strike in Syria

Col Ryan Dil­lon re­fused to con­firm Sally Jones’s death but said that coali­tion at­tacks on Isis fight­ers did not dis­crim­i­nate by na­tion­al­ity

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