-- Al-Qaeda's bombmaker in Yemen apparently wasn't among the victims of a U.S. drone strike, disappointing U.S. officials who thought last week's attack might have claimed a third key figure in the terrorist organization.
U.S. intelligence officials had said the strike that killed U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and an American propagandist, Samir Kahn, Friday appeared to have also taken out a bombmaker tied to efforts to bring down jets in 2009 and 2010.
But a top Yemeni official said Sunday that bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri was not among the two other victims whose bodies had been identified, the Associated Press reported. It said the Yemeni official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.
Saudi-born al-Asiri, 29, was tied to the underwear bomb used in an attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound jetliner on Christmas Day in 2009, and he was also believed to have been behind an intercepted pair of explosives-laden printers mailed from Yemen to the USA in 2010.
Al-Awlaki was the first U.S. citizen placed on the CIA's "kill or capture list," a designation that prompted his father to file a lawsuit challenging the government's authority to kill a citizen outside a war zone. He lost.
Al-Awlaki, who once preached at a mosque in Virginia, had fled to Yemen and had become the eloquent advocate for waging an Islamic war against the United States. U.S. authorities held him responsible for inspiring Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan's deadly shooting at Fort Hood in Texas and a young Nigerian's scheme to blow up a U.S. jet at Christmas.
Yemeni authorities said the strike from a U.S. drone killed the cleric and Khan, the editor of Inspire, al-Qaeda's English-language Web magazine, as they traveled in a desert area east of Sanaa, Yemen. President Obama called the strike a "major blow" to an al-Qaeda faction.
The strike has raised prickly legal questions and provoked measured complaints as critics condemned al-Awlaki while bemoaning the killing as an assassination that flouted U.S. and international law.
In December, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit filed on Nasser al-Awlaki's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights. It had argued that targeted killings violate the Constitution and international law because they allow the government to execute its own citizens without judicial process.
"The government's authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent," ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said.
Dar Al-Hijrah, the mosque in Falls Church, Va., where al-Awlaki preached in 2001 and 2002, blamed its former cleric's turn toward violence on his treatment in a Yemeni prison and said in a statement that it rejects the "extra-judicial assassination of any human being and especially an American citizen."
The Ramadhan Foundation, a British Muslim group, suggested he should have been tried in an international court. "These drone attacks have no legal justification," said Mohammed Shafiq, an official of the group.
The federal judge who dismissed al-Awlaki's case in December said the court did not have the authority to override a decision made by the executive branch involved in an armed conflict. The court "concluded that even though he happens to be a U.S. citizen, he can still be treated like any other belligerent," said Charlie Dunlap, a former Air Force lawyer who is director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security.
"If he wanted judicial due process, the court said he would have to surrender himself to U.S. authorities," Dunlap said.