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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday said no American citizens will be targeted in military strikes under President Donald Trump, suggesting a break from one of the Obama administration’s most controversial efforts to combat terror.
The statement came after Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, the 8-year-old daughter of slain American-born al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed along with a Navy SEAL during a raid in southern Yemen on Sunday. Officials said it was the first military raid carried out under the Trump administration.
“No American citizen will ever be targeted,” Spicer said when asked about the raid at the daily press briefing. Spicer, however, referred questions about the raid to the Department of Defense.
Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen in what was a notable targeting of an American born citizen by his own government. Civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government for targeting a U.S. citizen without a trial. Also killed in the strike was Samir Khan, a North Carolina native who moved to Yemen and helped lead the terrorist group’s magazine, Inspire.
A Justice Department memo made public in 2014 detailed the Obama administration's legal argument for conducting strikes against U.S. citizens who have joined militant groups.
Spicer’s proclamation that the new administration will never target American citizens is notable given Trump’s tough rhetoric on combating terror throughout the presidential campaign. “When you get these terrorists you have to take out their families,” Trump said in an interview in December 2015.
“I think he has been very clear that when it comes to seeking out ISIS and other terrorists that he’s going to lean on [CIA] Director Pompeo, [Sec. of Defense] Gen. Mattis, and seek their opinion on stuff,” Spicer said when asked about that quote. “And I think that will be continued.”