Top ISIS hacker reportedly killed by U.S. drone strike

The Islamic State’s most notorious hacker and English-speaking online recruiter has reportedly been killed in a U.S. drone strike.

Multiple U.S. government officials told CNN that they targeted Junaid Hussain, believed to also go by the pseudonyms Abu Hussain al-Britani and TriCk, while he traveled in Syria. “We have a high level of confidence he was killed,” one official said.

Hussain was reportedly recently ranked third on the U.S.’s desired “kill list” of ISIS operatives. He is believed to have worn multiple distinct hats with the terrorist group, and he was known both for his previous hacking experience and for encouraging supporters in the West to commit violent acts against the U.S. military.

“He has been extremely, extremely loud on social media, very outspoken in terms of trying to recruit other Westerners.”

“He has been extremely, extremely loud on social media, very outspoken in terms of trying to recruit other Westerners, and keeping his sights on the West in terms of targeting,” Alex Kassirer, an expert at the intelligence-gathering firm Flashpoint, told the Daily Dot.

Like many who join the Islamic State, Hussain took a winding road to get there. A native of Birmingham, England, he was arrested in 2011, while using the name TriCk, for hacking accounts belonging to political figures like former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He later skipped bail and announced plans to flee to Syria.

Once there, Hussain was a deft presence on Twitter, though ISIS members who use the social media service are often caught in an endless game: tweeting propaganda, getting their account suspended, and being forced to rebuild a following with a new name. Much of Hussain’s activity was characterized by an attempt to inspire in the U.S. to harm members of the U.S. military. In May, Hussain tweeted with one man who soon after opened fire on an event in Garland, Texas.

In recent months, a group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division began sporadically tweeting lists of purported U.S. service members—a resource intended to be used by “lone wolf” ISIS supporters to find and kill American soldiers. Hussain was clearly involved, as the group’s releases were signed with his name and he tweeted them from his account.  The releases were effectively an attempt to doxxing members of the military and included what was purportedly their names, photos, and addresses.

In March, the list included around 100 people, though reports indicated the information might have all been already available publicly. In August, it was around 1,400 combined members of the military and government employees.

Major Roger Cabiness II, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense, confirmed that the U.S. military had conducted recent drone strikes, but refused to comment on Hussain specifically.

In July, Hussain refused an interview with the Daily Dot’s William Turton, accusing him of being part of a “Jew media conspiracy.”

If Hussain did die in the attack, this would be the second successful drone strike on a major ISIS commander in barely more than a week. On Friday, the White House announced that the U.S. had killed Islamic State Deputy Leader Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali on Aug. 18.

Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

Kevin Collier

Kevin Collier

A former senior politics reporter for the Daily Dot, Kevin Collier focuses on privacy, cybersecurity, and issues of importance to the open internet. Since leaving the Daily Dot in March 2016, he has served as a reporter for Vocativ and a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed.