A British Islamic State recruiter known as the White Widow and her 12-year-old son are believed to have been killed in a CIA operation, after Donald Trump relaxed restrictions on the US spy agency’s drone strike programme.
Sally-Anne Jones reportedly died close to the border between Syria and Iraq, in a strike thought to have also killed her son Jojo Dixon.
The punk rock singer-turned-jihadist become Britain’s most wanted woman after fleeing to Syria from Kent in 2013 to marry computer hacker Junaid Hussain, an Isil fighter from Birmingham.
Jones became a prolific online recruiter for the extremist movement and is believed to have attracted dozens of female recruits using social media.
A defence source said the strike had been carried out by the CIA, which runs its own fleet of Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles.
Donald Trump ramped up the CIA’s strike programme soon after taking office, allowing the agency more freedom to carry out strikes and hinting he may relax rules of engagement designed to protect civilians. The CIA declined to comment.
The British government is not believed to have been consulted over the strike and there was no UK military involvement.
But Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said Jones was a legitimate target.
He warned that British nationals who had joined Isil and were plotting attacks on Britain had “made yourself a legitimate target and you run the risk every hour of every day of being on the wrong end of an RAF or a United States missile”.
The sister of one girl recruited by Jones said she hoped the 50-year-old would “rot in hell”.
The woman, who declined to be named, said: “Sally Jones was an evil woman who has destroyed our family.
“My sister was a nice and caring person until she met Sally Jones online and within months she radicalised her and then she changed and without us being able to have the chance to talk to her she left for Syria to join Islamic State.”
One counter terrorism source told the Telegraph that Jones had been a determined, sophisticated recruiter as well as a “media icon” for the group.
The source said: “I don’t think the significance of her death should be underestimated. She was genuinely very dangerous.”
Jojo was reportedly used as a human shield by his mother and stepfather to protect them from military drone strikes.
A photograph obtained by The Telegraph is the last known picture of him, taken in Raqqa in 2016 when he would have been aged 11.
It shows the little boy wearing the uniform of the ‘cubs of the caliphate’; clothing worn by the child soldiers of the so-called Islamic State.
JoJo, sporting cropped hair, stairs out at the camera dressed in the grey, Afghan-style uniform. With his pale skin and blond hair, JoJo – who was given the Islamic State name Hamza Hussain al-Britani – stands out as the child of the notorious white British jihadist.
Jones fled to Syria with her son at the end of November 2013, joining her boyfriend Junaid Hussain, an Islamist computer hacker she had met online. The couple later married in Raqqa.
Hussain, from Birmingham, was assassinated in a targeted US drone strike in August 2015 in Raqqa. Hussain, 21 at the time of his death, was, according to reports, the third-highest target on the Pentagon’s ‘kill list’.
The new York Times reported that Hussain “was careful to keep his young stepson by his side, and [as a result] the drones held their fire”. he was executed in a drone strike late one night when he left an internet cafe alone, according to reports.
Hussain had hacked into a US government computer and posted online the names and addresses of 1,300 military and government employees and had urged followers of the Islamic State in the US to “behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets”. He was also linked to other terror plots on US soil.
If Jones was taken out in a surgical strike, it may be that US authorities feared she was in receipt of information passed to her from her husband that may have posed a further threat to US citizens.
A security source said Jones’s gender would not have been enough to keep her off a kill list.