Critics have questioned the legal mandate of the PM to approve the strikes, given that the attack was undertaken in Syria. It occurred despite British parliament voting against such action in the country back in 2013.
Cameron told the UK House of Commons that 21-year-old jihadist Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff, and another Briton Ruhul Amin were killed in the targeted strike on August 21, after evidence indicated the pair were plotting to attack British commemorative events such as VE Day on May 10 and a ceremony to mark the death of murdered defense member Lee Rigby. Cameron said:
"In an act of self-defense and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria."
"In addition to Reyaad Khan who was the target of the strike, two [ISIL] associates were also killed, one of whom – Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were [ISIL] fighters and I can confirm there were no civilian casualties."
Defense Secretary Michael Fallon defended the PM, saying the decision to carry out the strike was "absolutely legal" and that the UK "wouldn’t hesitate" in approving similar attacks on British jihadists fighting abroad.
"We don’t have general permission [from parliament] to carry out military operations in Syria, but at the time of the debate last year the prime minister made it extremely clear that where there was a vital national interest at stake, we wouldn’t hesitate to take action rather than seek prior permission … and then come and explain to parliament afterwards, and that’s exactly what happened," he told BBC Radio 4.
Fears Over 'Hit List'
Despite assertions from government officials over the legality of the drone strike, there were serious concerns raised by MPs and human rights activists over the attack, which saw the British government carry out the killing of UK citizens in an area outside of the country’s jurisdiction.
Many pointed to the fact that the strikes were carried out in Syria, despite the government not having parliamentary approval to do so, while others said the move set a dangerous precedent, similar to US ‘hit list’ plans, aimed at killing citizens engaged in terrorist activities abroad.
Amnesty International's UK Director Kate Allen said it was “extremely alarming that the UK has apparently been conducting summary executions from the air. She added:
"In following the United States down a lawless road of remote-controlled summary killings from the sky, the RAF has crossed a line."
Green MP Caroline Lucas was among the critics fearful of the UK following American precedents, saying: "There is a very real risk that we are basically following the US model of secret strikes. They can often be counter-productive as well as illegal. On this occasion the prime minister has assured us that he was advised it was legal. It is right that parliament should see that advice".
Syria 'Not Designated as War Zone'
General Michael Clarke, director at the London-based think tank, Royal United Services Institute, pointed out that the focus should be less on the nationality of the jihadists, but on the fact that the air strikes were carried out in a country not officially designated as a war zone.
"The point is not so much that this man was British but that he was targeted in an area that the UK does not currently regard, legally, as an operational theater of war for UK forces."
There are concerns among critics that Cameron’s actions could create a precedent where circumstances are engineered to carry out raids on Syrian soil, given there is no parliamentary permission.
Even those within Cameron’s own Conservative party urged some caution, with Tory MP Andrew Tyrie calling for parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) to investigate the evidence that led to Cameron approving the drone strike, saying that "the ISC exists to scrutinize decisions like this".
While the British and French governments have pushed to authorize strikes in Syria to try defeat jihadists such as ISIL, many critics have said the approach is a case of being too little, too late in terms of trying to effectively deal with the rise of the group in the Middle East.