Sally Jones was a “poster woman” for Islamic State whose killing, if confirmed, would represent a significant propaganda blow to the terrorist group.
Jones, who helped recruit hundreds of women to join her in fighting jihad, was reported killed in June along with her 12-year-old-son, JoJo.
She is believed to be the first woman to be targeted in an airstrike, according to Shiraz Maher, senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London.
“If these reports are true, it means Sally Jones was targeted by a drone strike. She is the first woman I know of who’s been specifically targeted in this way,” Maher said. He pointed out that she was one of only two women the US state department designated as a foreign terrorist fighter.
Jones, a former singer and guitarist in an all-female 1990s punk band called Krunch, was born in Greenwich, south-east London, and later moved to Chatham, Kent.
She is believed to have been radicalised by her late husband, Junaid Hussain, who was British. After converting to Islam she travelled to Syria to join him in 2013.
When Hussain was killed in a US drone strike in 2015, the British press began to refer to her as “the white widow”. She is not the only jihadist to be given this nickname; it has also been used for Samantha Lewthwaite – the widow of 7/7 London attacker Germaine Lindsay.
Jones’s roots in suburban south-east England led her to be portrayed as an unlikely jihadist. But her background fits a profile of foreign fighters drawn up in a World Bank study which challenged assumptions that they come from deprived backgrounds. It found that the majority of Isis recruits are, like Jones, well educated and relatively wealthy.
Jones is believed to have recruited hundreds of extremists from the UK. She was placed on a UN sanctions list that included a travel ban and freeze on assets.
Last year she issued a series of specific terrorist threats, including calling on Muslim women to launch terrorist attacks in London, Glasgow, and Wales during Ramadan.
Citing Isis documents, the international Counter Extremism Project said she was responsible for training all European female recruits in tactics including suicide missions.
Jones used various social media accounts to recruit women to Isis and provided practical advice on how to travel to Syria. Typical comments include: “You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railings at Raqqa … Come here I’ll do it for you.”
Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad, said Jones was one of Islamic State’s “most iconic recruiters”.
Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, she added: “Having [Jones] on side was really important in terms of projecting the idea that Isis could get into the very furthest reaches of British society. They could pluck up this woman who was a punk rocker, who was white, who was kind of attractive and they could put her up as their kind of poster woman.”
Sally Jones: UK punk singer who became leading Isis recruiter – The Guardian