A leader of the Islamic State insurgency's so-called "CyberCaliphate" hacking team has reportedly been killed in a US drone strike in Syria.
Junaid Hussain, also known by his nom de guerre Abu Hussain al-Britani, is believed to have died on Tuesday while riding in a vehicle near the Syrian city of Raqqa, according to a US military source who spoke with CNN on Wednesday. The US government officially confirmed his death on Friday.
"[Hussain] was involved in recruiting ISIL sympathizers in the West to carry out lone-wolf style attacks," Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder told Pentagon reporters, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. "He had significant technical skills and expressed a strong desire to kill Americans… He no longer poses a threat."
Along with Mohammed Emwazi, the IS executioner known as "Jihadi John," 21-year-old Hussain was widely seen as the most prominent British citizen within the terrorist organization. British authorities have yet to comment on the reports of his death. Several US officials informed CNN that the drone strike had specifically targeted Hussain after intelligence had pinpointed his location, and revealed that the British government was not involved in the strike against one of its own citizens. Announcing the death is a sensitive matter, the officials noted, acknowledging that the targeted US killing of a British citizen could inflame Muslim communities in the UK.
A former member of the hacking group TeaMp0isoN, with whom he operated under the moniker "TriCk," Hussain was jailed for six months in Britain in 2012 for stealing the personal address book of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. That year his group also bombarded a counter-terror hotline of the British intelligence agency MI6 with calls, tying up its lines. "You're being phone bombed right now, mate," someone identifying himself as TriCk told hotline operators in a recording that was later uploaded to YouTube.
Hussain is believed to have traveled to Syria from Birmingham the following year, and gained international notoriety after a cyber attack on the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the US Central Command, which coordinates US strategy from the Middle East to Central Asia. He is also believed to have played a key role in IS recruitment and communications, tasked principally with enlisting hackers for the CyberCaliphate team and inciting attacks.
This past June, Hussain trained an undercover investigator from the UK tabloid The Sun to carry out a bomb attack on an Armed Forces Day parade in south London. The paper said it had foiled the plot after informing police.
In 2011, TeaMp0isoN claimed to have helped "clean Facebook" of more than 1,000 pages that featured what it regarded as racist and Zionist content, an operation that included attacks on the pages of British far-right groups like the English Defense League.
Hussain was quoted by the Telegraph in 2012 as saying, "Terrorism doesn't exist. They create the terrorism and fabricate it to demonize a certain faith." He claimed at the time that TeaMp0isoN did not follow a particular religion or political group.
Hussain was married to fellow Briton Sally Jones, a former punk rocker who became radicalized and left the UK with her son to go to Syria. Jones, originally from Kent, has denied that her husband has been killed via two Twitter accounts that US intelligence experts say are linked to IS. She reportedly told a British jihadi bride that she is "blessed her husband is still alive."
Earlier this month, the pair made headlines after reportedly urging British jihadists to carry out "lone wolf" attacks in the UK instead of traveling to fight in Syria. The couple reportedly sent terror guidebooks to fictional jihadists created by Sky News and a freelance journalist. The material included bomb-making instructions and information about domestic terror plots in the UK.
Though Hussain was undeniably a high-value target, sources have spoken against a British news report that said he was No. 3 on a drone target list. Other Islamic State commanders were seen as a greater threat, according to Reuters.
This story has been updated to include US military confirmation of Hussain's death.