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  • Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera

    Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera's Islamabad bureau chief, is shown here reporting from Damascus, Syria. | Photo: Al Jazeera video screenshot

Published 31 March 2017

The two journalists say that their lives are in danger by incorrectly being placed on the list. 

Two journalists reporting on international conflicts filed a legal challenge Thursday against U.S. President Donald Trump and state officials after their names were mistakenly put on a U.S. “kill list.”

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The case in the U.S. District Court in Washington was filed on behalf of Bilal Abdul Kareem and Ahmad Zaidan, from human rights group Reprieve. Defendants in the claim include Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and NSA head H. R. McMaster.

Kareem, 46, and Zaidan, 54, referenced leaked information from top secret documents from a U.S. computer program SKYNET which placed them on a “kill list.” The program identifies targets to be placed on the list by analyzing people's metadata, phone calls and travel habits.

Zaidan was working as a senior journalist for Al Jazeera in Pakistan and was the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden. Zaidan was wrongly identified as a courier for al-Qaida, leading him to flee Pakistan.

Kareem, who is not connected with a particular media outlet, is known for his Syrian-opposition-friendly posts on social media, and routinely appeared on various media outlets. He was based out of Aleppo, Syria until January when he left as part of the evacuation of armed opposition fighters from the besieged city. The Brooklyn-native has been accused of being aligned with Al-Qaida factions in Syria, a claim he denies.

The suit filed also affirms that neither Zaidan nor Kareem are members of any terrorist organization.

“Neither Zaidan nor Kareem pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons or national security. Neither Zaidan nor Kareem is a member or supporter of any terrorist group. Inclusion of Zaidan and Kareem on the kill list under these circumstance was arbitrary and capricious, and an abuse of discretion,” the lawsuit read.

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Lawyers believe that Trump and U.S. officials are not only targeting people on the “kill list,” but that the previous criteria to place people on the list had been removed.

While Barack Obama’s previous administration drew continued criticism for its use of unmanned drone attacks which commonly have hit civilian targets and Trump’s administration appears to be continuing controversial covert anti-terrorist operations, including a raid in Yemen which killed at least 23 civilians.

“The inclusion of reporters on a U.S. ‘kill list’ on the basis of their metadata makes a mockery of due process, and will do nothing to make Americans safer,” said Reprieve representative Kate Higham.

“President Trump must urgently review the entire targeting program before any reporters are killed on his watch,” she added.

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