The death of a top ISIS recruiter in a recent drone strike eliminated one of the terror group’s most potent weapons in its social media war against the U.S. and its allies, according to U.S. intelligence sources.
British national Junaid Hussain was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Raqqa, Syria on August 24, as has been widely reported, and some intelligence officials say they’re already seeing the impact of his absence. Husain had tried to recruit Americans for attacks within U.S. borders, but ISIS social media activity is already somewhat lower, and there have been no credible threats against Pope Francis, now traveling in the U.S.
However, other intelligence officials, while confirming the decline in on-line chatter, also caution that it's “too early” to “read too much into it,” as ISIS may have switched at least some of its communication to the dark web.
Husain, a 21-year-old computer hacker, grew up in Birmingham, England. He was jailed for stealing personal information from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and then in 2013 fled to Syria to join ISIS, where he became better known as Abu Hussain al-Britaini.
According to published accounts, he assumed a major role in online recruiting and hacking military web sites. He reportedly produced ISIS kill lists targeting specific Americans and other Westerners.
But Hussain, as he acknowledged via Twitter, was also high on the U.S. kill list. A U.S. missile caught Hussain and two bodyguards in their car at a Raqqa gas station.
Confirming his death, the U.S. military said, “We have a taken a significant threat off the battlefield … He had significant technical skills and expressed a strong desire to kill Americans.”
Three days after the drone strike, WNBC’s Jonathan Dienst reported that Hussain had tried to recruit attackers in New York, New Jersey and several other states to launch attacks inside the U.S. “[Hussain] is believed to have used Twitter and other on-line media platforms to encourage attacks against the U.S.,” reported Dienst. “Senior U.S. officials have said several ISIS suspects arrested this summer in the tri-state area are believed to have been influenced by [him].”
With Hussain dead, ISIS has not yet made a visible effort to bolster its weaker social media recruiting effort. The current reduction in media activity is also not the first time ISIS has gone relatively quiet. In 2014, according to published reports, ISIS threat videos, execution videos and other social media efforts dwindled briefly. They returned with a vengeance, however, with Hussain leading the charge.