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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

The Targeted Killing of a Formidable Enemy



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Anwar al-Awlaki had attributes that made him a serious enemy. A promoter of Islamist fanaticism, he had become the leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen, and was set for greater things in the jihad against the West.

Granted the limitations of his intellectual horizon, he was intelligent and certainly capable. Born and brought up in the United States, he spoke fluent English and could give the impression to his acolytes that he knew from experience how decadent and wicked the ways of the West are. The Fort Hood murderer, the underpants bomber, and the Time Square fire-raiser are evidence that he had the power to persuade people that killing is a God-given task.

His death while on the road in Yemen is obviously the result of first-rate intelligence. Somebody must have got close enough to discover his movements and then be able to pass the information on to controllers of the Predator that then took Awlaki out. Three other Islamist fanatics are said to have died in this targeted killing.

The Israelis have similarly killed Hamas leaders in Gaza and Hezbollah sheiks in Lebanon, and the threat of repeating such attacks constrains the movements of some major enemies, for instance keeping the Lebanese Hezbollah Sheikh Nasrallah in permanent hiding. Contentious as it is sometimes made out to be, targeted killing is a war measure. In the Second World War, the Allies made deliberate efforts to take down everything and everyone military or civilian contributing to the German cause. Some are delving now into all sorts of legalisms to make targeted killings illegal on grounds of nationality or the absence of declared war. That is the way to ensure that the present civilizational and cultural confrontation is extended indefinitely.



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