PESHAWAR, Pakistan — An American citizen killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in 2011 was arrested by Pakistani authorities three years earlier but escaped after being released on bail, officials said Thursday.
The Obama administration revealed Wednesday that Jude Kenan Mohammad died in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region, making him the fourth American citizen killed by unmanned aircraft in Pakistan and Yemen. The confirmation came as President Barack Obama is expected to deliver a speech in Washington on Thursday that will focus in large part on the administration’s expanded use of drones to kill hundreds of people in those two countries and other places where terrorists have taken refuge.
U.S. officials didn’t provide details, but Pakistani security officials said Mohammad was killed in late 2011 in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area.
Mohammad was part of an eight-member group based in North Carolina accused of planning terrorist attacks. He was indicted by federal authorities in 2009 as part of an alleged plot to attack the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. The other seven members were arrested, but authorities said Mohammad fled the U.S. to join Islamic militants in Pakistan’s tribal region.
Pakistani intelligence officials arrested Mohammad on Oct. 15, 2008, after he tried to enter Mohmand, a tribal area considered a sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban militants, without the permission required for foreigners to travel to the tribal region.
Mohammad, who was 20 years old at the time, was carrying a laptop, a dagger, Islamic books and DVDs, a map of Pakistan and an American passport, the security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Mohammad’s family said at the time that he was abroad visiting his Pakistani father, Taj Mohammad. The father owned a gas station in the northwest city of Peshawar, according to the son’s police report from when he was arrested. U.S. consular officials in Pakistan visited the American and provided him with consular assistance.
Mohammad appeared in court in the town of Shabqadar in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Oct. 17, 2008, wearing the long tunic and baggy trousers common among Pakistani men. Police said they were interrogating the American to determine why he had come to the area, but gave no indication at the time that they suspected he had links with militants.
Police officials said Thursday that Mohammad was not cooperative during their interrogations and claimed he was being mistreated.
Mohammad was eventually booked on charges of weapons possession and traveling without proper documents, but was released on bail. He failed to show up for a court hearing on Sept. 5, 2009, bolstering suspicions that he was on the run.
It’s unclear what Mohammad did in the time between when he was arrested in Pakistan and killed in a U.S. drone strike.
CIA drone attacks have been a source of tension between Pakistan and the U.S. Pakistani officials regularly criticize the strikes in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, although the government has been known to support at least some of the attacks in the past in secret. Pakistani officials have also claimed that the drones kill large numbers of civilians, an allegation the U.S. says is exaggerated.
U.S. officials rarely speak in detail in public about the drone program in Pakistan because of its covert nature.
The White House said Obama’s speech coincides with the signing of new “presidential policy guidance” on when the U.S. can use drone strikes, though it was unclear what that guidance entailed and whether Obama would outline its specifics in his remarks.
The president is expected to talk generally about the need for greater transparency in the drone strikes and may allude to the desire to give greater responsibility for those operations to the military. But he is likely to tread carefully on an issue that involves classified CIA operations.
In a letter Wednesday to congressional leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder said only one of the U.S. citizens killed in drone strikes beyond war zones — Anwar al-Awlaki, who had ties to at least three attacks planned or carried out on U.S. soil — was specifically targeted by American forces. He said Mohammad and the other two Americans were not targeted in the U.S. strikes.
Pakistan’s incoming government, which will be led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is under pressure from the public and the courts to stop U.S. drone strikes. Sharif said shortly after his party won the May 11 election that the drones violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Some analysts have questioned how hard Sharif would push the U.S. since the number of strikes has fallen precipitously from a peak of more than 120 in 2010 to close to a dozen so far this year. It could depend on how much he needs the U.S. in other areas.
Even if Sharif wanted to shut down the U.S. drone program, he would have to contend with the wishes of the Pakistani army, which is believed to guide the country’s policy toward the strikes.