An alleged computer hacker for the self-styled Islamic State has likely been killed in a recent drone strike in Syria, US officials say. British 'cyber jihadist' had allegedly acted as propagandist and recruiter.
US officials said Thursday they are reasonably certain that British-born computer hacker Junaid Hussain was killed this week by a drone strike targeting Islamic State leaders.
"We have a high degree of confidence" that Hussain was killed in a coalition airstrike in Syria this week, an unnamed US official told the AFP news agency.
Two US officials told the AP news agency that an airstrike was conducted in recent days in or near Raqqa, the Syrian city used as the Islamic State's capital and that it apparently killed Hussain.
Pentagon officials have not publicly confirmed the death. But US Congressman Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, praised the killing of what he described as a "top cyber jihadist" employed by Islamic State.
"The strike sends an unmistakable message to the terror group's ranks: plot against us -- even on social media, and we will find you," McCaul said in a statement.
Despite the confident bravado from the Republican congressman from Texas some US intelligence experts say there are doubts the hacker is dead.
Conflicting reports over Hussain's fate
Twitter accounts that U.S. intelligence experts say are connected to Islamic State reported that his wife had said he was still alive.
Seamus Hughes, a former U.S. government counterterrorism expert, said that while the reports came from Twitter accounts known to be close to Islamic State, it was not possible to confirm their accuracy.
"It could be a concerted attempt to deceive," Hughes told the Reuters news agency.
Born and raised in Birmingham
Hussain, who grew up in Birmingham, England and is thought to have relocated to Syria in the past two years, was linked to several cyber attacks on US Internet sites and Twitter accounts, including US Central Command which coordinates airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. He had also been a visible presence on Twitter and acted as a cheerleader for the extremist group.
In 2012, Hussain had been in jailed for six months for stealing former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's address book from an account maintained by a Blair adviser.
But cyber security experts have said they believe that Hussain and other hackers working for Islamic State lack the skills needed to launch serious attacks that would shut down computer networks or harm critical infrastructure.
"He wasn't a serious threat. He was most likely a nuisance hacker," Adam Meyers, vice president of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike told Reuters. "It was his involvement in recruitment, communications and other ancillary support that would have made him a target."
jar/jil (Reuters, AP, AFP)