The Ministry of Defence has released a video showing the moment an RAF Reaper drone carries out an air strike on Islamic State fighters before they manage to carry out a public execution.
The footage shows two handcuffed prisoners being led from a van and placed in front of a large group of spectators in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-held town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria.
The drone, 2,000 miles up and manned by servicemen at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, then releases its single Hellfire missile.
The strike hits an Isil sniper on a nearby roof and the civilians and fighters scatter before the killing can be carried out.
Releasing the footage on Tuesday, the Ministry of Defence explained that it could not target the Isis militants on the ground directly because that would have also killed civilians.
The mission was overseen from a heavily fortified combined air operations centre (Caoc) at the al-Udeid air base in Qatar.
At a glance | Reaper drones
Air Commodore Johnny Stringer, commander of UK air operations in Iraq and Syria, said “The individual whom we engaged was a sniper in over-watch to shoot civilians who sought to move away from the execution, let alone to protect the planned execution itself.
“That particular example for us very much brought it home because civilians had been herded in, forced literally at gunpoint, to go and watch this going on in their hundreds.”
He revealed that the UK had taken out Britons in secret missions to stop specific attacks, adding: “By dint of their activity, by being members of Daesh (Isil) and frankly engaging the people we are here to protect, they (British citizens) become valid military targets and that’s the way we look at it.
“These people know we can find them wherever they try to hide.”
The RAF killed British jihadists in a drone strike in Syria in 2015, the first targeted UK drone attack on its own nationals.
The release came as Sir Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary, announced that drone pilots who bomb Isil fighters could be awarded military medals.
Currently medals are awarded according to a consideration of rigour and risk, with risk defined as being physically exposed to danger.
But Sir Michael Fallon said a rethink may be needed as the UK deploys more unmanned aircraft on operations such as those targeting Isil, otherwise known as Daesh, from the skies above Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Shader.
Speaking on a visit to British troops…