A U.S. drone strike in Syria Tuesday reportedly killed a fugitive British computer hacker who had become one of ISIS' top online recruiters.
The Wall Street Journal reported the death of Junaid Hussein late Wednesday, citing two people familiar with the operation. The officials said that Hussein was killed by a targeted airstrike near the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS' self-proclaimed "caliphate".
Hussein was a native of Birmingham, England who fled Britain for Syria in 2013 after serving prison time for hacking the e-mail of a former aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and publishing Blair's personal information online. Adopting the name of Abu Hussain Al Britani, he repeatedly called for young, computer-literate Muslims to come to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.
"You can sit at home and play call of duty or you can come here and respond to the real call of duty... the choice is yours,” Hussein tweeted in 2014, referencing the popular video game.
In recent months, officials told the Journal that Hussein had tried to use social media to recruit would-be jihadis to carry out attacks against U.S. service personnel. The paper reported that Hussein would frequently post the names, addresses and photos of U.S. troops on his Twitter feed and urge his followers to find the serviceman or servicewoman and kill him or her. U.S. officials believe Hussein was also involved in plotting terror attacks over this past July 4 holiday.
Hussein was also linked to a failed May attack on a Garland, Texas "Draw Muhammad" cartoon contest. Elton Simpson, one of the gunmen involved in the failed assault, urged his Twitter followers to follow Hussein hours before he and fellow attacker Nadir Soofi were killed by police guarding the event.
The decision to target Hussein was made several months ago by U.S. and British officials, who had been gathering evidence against him in the event he was captured alive.
Earlier this month, reporters working undercover for Sky News managed to contact Hussein and his wife, a British Muslim convert named Sally Jones. He encouraged the reporters to form Islamist gangs in Britain with the goal of creating an Islamic state there, even sending them detailed guidebooks that included advice on raising money and procuring weapons.
Sky News reported that Hussein discussed a plot to attack the August 15 V-J Day celebrations in London, which were attended by Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the British government.
"It will be big," Hussein wrote in one communication with the reporter. "We will hit the kuffar [unbelievers] hard InshAllah [God willing]. Hit their soldiers in their own land. InshAllah. Soldiers that served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be present. Jump in the crowd and detonate the bomb.
"They think they can kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan then come back to the UK and be safe. We'll hit them hard InshAllah." The ceremonies took place without incident.