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Judge dismisses targeted-kill program lawsuit

By Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to halt the Obama administration's program to capture or kill Americans who joined militant groups abroad.

The lawsuit was filed by civil liberties groups on behalf of the father of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who joined al Qaeda in Yemen and has been tied to plots against the United States.

U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissed on jurisdictional grounds the lawsuit, which aimed to halt the program and reveal the criteria the Obama administration set for targeting someone.

Bates said the plaintiff lacked legal standing to bring the case and that his claims presented an issue that cannot be decided by the courts, requiring dismissal of the case.

Administration officials have refused to officially confirm that the program exists, although U.S. officials have said the CIA has been given the green light to capture or kill al-Awlaki.

"The serious issues regarding the merits of the alleged authorization of the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen overseas must await another day or another (non-judicial) forum," Bates concluded in his 83-page ruling.

The cleric, who was born in New Mexico and lived in Virginia until leaving the country shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, has been sought by Yemeni authorities, who also want to capture or kill him.

U.S. officials have described al-Awlaki as having a leadership role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In addition to communicating with the U.S. Army major who gunned down 13 at a military base in Texas last year, he has issued Internet videos and writings to urge attacks against the United States.

The al Qaeda affiliate has said it was behind the plot by a Nigerian man who tried to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underwear. The group also said it was involved in a more recent plot to send package bombs via U.S. cargo carriers.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini; editing by Will Dunham)

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