Condolences for killing a terrorist?

White House photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with advisors prior to a bilateral meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón of Colombia at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2010

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  • #Khan was not on the U.S. government’s targeting list making his death "collateral damage" @marcthiessen

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  • State Department called Khan's family to express condolences for his accidental death @marcthiessen

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  • Khan understood exactly what he was doing -- he was not "collateral damage" @marcthiessen

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While the Obama administration was busy last week tamping down reports that the Japanese government has scuttled President Obama’s plans to visit Hiroshima and publicly apologize for America’s dropping of the atom bomb, another apology received less notice. According to the Charlotte Observer, an official from the State Department called the family of American al-Qaeda terrorist Samir Khan "to offer the government’s condolences on his death in a U.S. drone attack last week in Yemen." Apparently Khan, who was killed alongside Anwar al-Awlaki, was not on the U.S. government’s targeting list, making his death "collateral damage" in the eyes of the Obama administration. So an official from the State Department called his family — much as they might the families of innocent women and children accidentally killed in a U.S. strike — to express our condolences for his accidental death.

"And it is appalling that a representative of the U.S. government he sought to destroy — whose citizens he wanted to "mow down" like grass — would offer 'condolences' for his death." -- Mark Thiessen

This is an outrage. The United States has no reason to offer "condolences" for the death of this self-proclaimed "traitor to America." His role as an al-Qaeda propagandist alone justified his killing (much as America would have been justified in killing Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels during World War II).

But Khan was much more than a mere propagandist; he was an online al-Qaeda terrorist trainer. The internet magazine he founded, Inspire, publishes not just inspirational sermons, but detailed instructions for how to commit terrorist attacks against the United States.

In each issue of Inspire, Khan published a section called "Open Source Jihad," which he described as "a resource manual for those who loathe tyrants; including bomb making techniques, security measures, guerilla tactics, [and] weapons training." The purpose, Khan wrote, was to let terrorists "train at home instead of risking dangerous travel abroad." Under his leadership, Inspire became a virtual al-Qaeda terror training camp.

Take the fall 2010 issue, in which Khan published detailed instructions for how to "use a pickup truck as a mowing machine, not to mow grass but mow down the enemies of Allah." The article advised jihadists in America to weld blades to the front of the vehicle and then "pick up as much speed as you can while still retaining good control … to strike as many people as possible in your first run." This, the magazine said, would create "maximum carnage" adding "You can imagine the scene after such an operation!"

In that same issue, Khan also published "Tips for our brothers in the United States," with ideas and guidance "for those planning on executing operations." These ranged from "random shooting operations" targeting a "crowded restaurant in Washington, DC at lunch" to more ambitious WMD plots "for those mujahid brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry." The article provided instructions in the use of code words, encryption and other tactics to evade and defeat intelligence monitoring.

In the summer 2010 issue, Khan published "The AQ Chef: How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," which provided detailed instructions for constructing a pipe bomb "from ingredients available in any kitchen in the world." In the summer 2011 issue, he published "Bomb School: Making Acetone Peroxide" which provided step-by-step, photo-illustrated instructions for assembling the explosive, and advised that "In the US … [ingredients] could be found at places such as Home Depot, Sears and Wal-Mart." In the winter 2010 issue, Khan published a detailed guide for "Destroying Buildings," with advice on the "best gas to use" and instructions on how to find "the center of gravity … the points in the building that if destroyed would cause the fall of the building." The magazine also ran a three-issue series called "Weapons School: Training with the AK," which instructed jihadists "on the basics of the AK, the weapon’s capabilities, how to open the weapon and clean it, shooting positions, the types of bullets and the add-ons."

Disseminating this material in an official al-Qaeda publication makes Khan no different than the leader of an al-Qaeda terror training camp operating in the mountains of Yemen or Pakistan. He was a legitimate military target.

Khan understood exactly what he was doing. In an article titled "I am proud to be a traitor to America," he wrote, "I am acutely aware that body parts have to be torn apart, skulls have to be crushed and blood has to be spilled" for al-Qaeda to achieve victory. He added, "it only brought me gleeful tears and great joy to hear that America labels me a terrorist.. . . and I take this opportunity to accentuate my oath of allegiance . . . to the ferocious lion, the champion of jihad, the humble servant of God, my beloved Shaykh, Usama bin Ladin. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam."

Khan was not "collateral damage." He was a sworn member of al-Qaeda who trained terrorists to kill his fellow Americans. And it is appalling that a representative of the U.S. government he sought to destroy — whose citizens he wanted to "mow down" like grass — would offer "condolences" for his death.

Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI.

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