David Cameron said the U.K. had carried out a drone strike in Syria to kill an Islamic State fighter of British nationality who was planning attacks on Britain.
Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff, South Wales, was killed on Aug. 21 by a Royal Air Force drone while traveling near Raqqah, Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London on Monday. Ruhul Amin, from Aberdeen, Scotland, died in the same attack, which was carried out in “self defense,” the prime minister said as he explained why he had not first sought parliamentary approval.
Another Briton, Junaid Hussain, was killed in an attack by U.S. forces three days later, Cameron said. Hussain and Khan were involved in plotting attacks on Britain, he told lawmakers. Islamic State, the Sunni group that has declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, is also known as ISIL.
The men “were involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathizers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the West including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high-profile public commemorations,” Cameron said. “We had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action.”
Parliament has voted to allow air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, but not in Syria, though Cameron has repeatedly said he reserved the right to act to protect British lives. He said the action was cleared by the attorney general on the grounds that it was to protect the U.K.
“In the prevailing circumstances in Syria, the air strike was the only feasible means of effectively disrupting the attacks planned and directed by this individual,” Cameron said. “It was necessary and proportionate for the individual self-defense of the U.K.”
The move was nonetheless described as a “big departure” by the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.
“The point is not so much that this man was British but that he was targeted in an area that the U.K. does not currently regard, legally, as an operational theater of war for U.K. forces,” RUSI Director General Michael Clarke said in e-mailed comments.
Cameron also announced that the U.K. would offer “humanitarian protection” to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years as he responded to pressure from the European Union and lawmakers from all sides in the U.K. to scale up Britain’s offers of sanctuary.
Britain will seek to find refugees in camps on the Syrian border to discourage people from making dangerous journeys across the sea to reach Europe, Cameron told lawmakers. There will be an emphasis on helping children, he said.
“Because we are not part of the EU’s borderless Schengen agreement or its relocation initiative, Britain is able to decide its own approach, so we will continue with our approach of taking refugees from the camps and from elsewhere in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon,” Cameron said. “This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the U.K., rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe which has tragically cost so many lives.”
The opposition Labour Party said Britain should be doing more. “A fixed, modest, 5-year plan seems inadequate response in face of urgent and growing crisis,” Andy Burnham, a contender for the Labour leadership, said on Twitter.
Cameron said the growing number of terrorist plots originating in Syria strengthened the case for Britain to extend its military involvement beyond Iraq, but that he would not do so without the strong backing of Parliament. In 2013, Conservative rebels and the opposition Labour Party defeated his plan to start bombing Syria.