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IS British Hacker Killed in US Airstrike in Syria

File - British hacker and Islamic State member Junaid Hussain. (Courtesy Counter Extremism Project)
File - British hacker and Islamic State member Junaid Hussain. (Courtesy Counter Extremism Project)

The Islamic State group’s top English-speaking hacker and recruiter has been killed in an airstrike in what some U.S. officials are calling “another major blow” to the terror group.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder confirmed that Junaid Hussain was killed August 24 in a U.S. strike in Raqqa, Syria.

Hussain, a British citizen who also went by the name Abu Hussain al Britani, had been high on the Pentagon's list of most-wanted Islamic State targets.

"This individual was very dangerous," Ryder said. "He had significant technical skills, and he had expressed a strong desire to kill Americans and recruit others to kill Americans."

Team Poison

Hussain grew up in Britain and as a teenager was part of the British hacking group known as Team Poison. Officials believe he fled to Syria in 2013 and was part of the group of Islamic State fighters that included Jihadi John, who later executed American journalist James Foley.

Since then, Hussain had become a persistent presence on social media websites, like Twitter, and was thought to have been the head of the Islamic State’s CyberCaliphate hacker group.

“He was involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathizers in the West to carry out lone-wolf-style attacks,” National Security Council spokeswoman Dew Tiantawach told VOA Friday, using an acronym for the group.

U.S. officials said Hussain was responsible for releasing identifying personal information on approximately 1,300 U.S. military and government employees, encouraging Islamic State supporters to target them.

Hussain had also been tied to the May 2015 attack on a contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas, and claimed responsibility for the attack on his Twitter account.

A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called Hussain’s death a “major blow,” adding his “reach to ISIL supporters around the world and his cyber background will be hard to replace.”

Just as important, the U.S. sees Hussain’s death as an indication of progress in the fight against the Islamic State group, which some critics have described as a stalemate.

Key losses

The intelligence official said Hussain’s death was just the latest in a “string of key losses” for the violent extremist organization, which lost its second-in-command, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, in an August 18 airstrike near the Iraqi city of Mosul.

“The ability to remove key ISIL figures from the battlefield, or those hiding in Raqqa, shows the scope and resolve of America’s fight against the group,” he said.

Hussain was married to Sally Jones, another British-born Islamic State recruiter who goes by Umm Hussain al Britani on social media accounts.

Officials believe Jones and her son were living in Raqqa with Hussain, but U.S. officials said Hussain was "by himself" at the time of the airstrike.