The death of Sally-Anne Jones, if confirmed, will be a significant kill in the war against Isis. This is not for any military reasons. She was not an important fighter or commander and her supposed roles in myriad international terrorist plots were, to a large extent, fanciful. But the “White Widow” brought up in Kent was of great propaganda value for jihad.
Jones, an Englishwoman raised a Catholic with a past life in a punk rock band and the drug scene who had converted to the most violent form of Islam and married a terrorist, could not be but of great attraction to the media. Her husband, Junaid Hussein, from, Birmingham was, like Jones, killed in a drone strike two years ago, a death which had also led to widespread coverage.
Jones was not, however, the only ‘White Widow’ in the Islamist ranks. Samantha Lewthwaite, a convert from Northern Ireland, who was married to the 7/7 London bomber Jermaine Lindsay, joined al-Shabaab in Somalia. She, by all accounts, remains alive and, in the league table of female European jihadists, has a grislier track record than Jones being blamed for involvement in 400 deaths in various atrocities.
But the publicity Jones received was used by Isis for a high-profile Internet recruitment drive among young people in the West, especially girls and young women. Their journey to Syria, often without the knowledge of their families, generated further headlines.
Umm Hussein al-Britaniyah, or Sakinah Hussein, the two names under which Jones was known in her Syrian life, was often photographed aiming an assault rifle or a pistol. There were colourful media reports of her leading all-female units into battle, but there is no evidence of this actually taking place,
The propaganda drive took place at a time when Isis was doing extremely well, bursting out of Syria into Iraq and carving out its ‘caliphate’. Jones’s fellow foreign volunters were also busy on the Internet, enticing young Muslims in the West to go and join the “five star jihad”.
Some of them acquired families while in Syria and Iraq. Others had their children with them. Jones had done that, taking nine year old Joe, known as Jojo, a son from a partner in England in 2015. Many of the young foreign jihadists are now dead or imprisoned as Isis faces defeat. The young women Jones helped to recruit often had multiple marriages, being passed to other fighters after their husbands were killed.
Some were forced to share their homes with sex-slaves. Some saw their sons recruited to the Isis children’s unit, “Cubs of the Caliphate”, where they were filmed executing prisoners.
A photograph appeared which appeared to show Jones’s son JoJo taking part in such a killing. She put out a statement denying it was him. According to the wife of a fighter who had fled to Turkey from Syria, Jones was afraid of the consequences for her son if he was captured. “She already had the feeling that Daesh was going to lose”, the woman maintained, “otherwise she would have been boasting about what her son had done.”
JoJo is believed to have been killed when a US drone, according to reports, targeted his mother outside Raqaa, the ‘capital’ of the Caliphate, in June this year. One reason for American and British officials to keep the matter secret for so long was apparently the sensitivities about a young boy dying in a targeted killing mission.
Jones’s husband Junaid Hussein, who had studied computer science, was highly valued by the Isis leadership because of his technological skills. The couple’s short and brutal life in Syria is a reminder of the power of social media and propaganda in modern insurgencies. But it also makes those engaged in this type of ‘hybrid warfare’ prime targets for elimination.