I’ll be on BBC Radio Scotland just after 12 noon (BST) today discussing the reported death of Sally-Ann Jones (the white widow) in a US drone attack in Syria and issues around radicalisation http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096smkk
Commentary on the reported death of Sally-Ann Jones
The reported death of Sally-Ann Jones, who had been nicknamed the ‘white widow’, following a US drone attack in June 2017 in Syria is significant. Raised in Kent, UK as a Roman Catholic, she converted to Islam and married her husband Junaid Hussain where they travelled to Syria in 2013 to join Islamic State (IS). There Hussain was a jihadi fighter with IS who also had a major IS role as he was also employed as a computer hacker. Jones was used by IS to recruit people to join the group, mainly western women. She also posted on social media threatening messages to Christians in the UK.
During my BBC radio interviews that I gave on the 12th October I was asked if Jones’ death was significant, if it was a surprise that a white middle class woman could be radicalised to IS and questions on the effectiveness of the UK’s Prevent policy. (BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat 5 minutes 32 seconds in, BBC Radio Scotland 15 minutes 38 seconds in and BBC Radio Kent, 1 hour 4 minutes 50 seconds in).
I do see it as significant as it has placed a dent in IS’ propaganda machine, especially in having a blonde haired white woman from the UK who converted to Islam and who was a committed IS follower. Having such an asset not only helped IS in recruiting other western women, IS used her to enhance the acceptance of a global Islamic community, especially using the fact that Jones spurned her western life as she embraced the IS narrative and life in the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. While not being significant in a military sense, Jones did encourage UK citizens in carrying out IS inspired attacks in Britain and being as influential as she was IS have lost this asset in Jones too.
Corbyn’s Reluctance to Support Drone Attacks on Terrorists
The leader of HM Opposition in the UK’s Parliamentary Houser of Commons, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn agrees that if correct Jones’ death is significant. In a veiled condemnation of the fact she was killed in a drone attack, he added that it would have been preferable if she had been arrested and put on trial. I agree that in an ideal world all terrorists should face a criminal trial, but when you are dealing with groups like IS, this is a difficult task. When a targeted IS member is in IS held territory in the current conditions in Syria with its on-going civil war, where communication is difficult to establish and to have assets on the ground, this is virtually impossible. In relation as to whether Corbyn would order a drone attack, in essence he stated he would not do so adding one would have carefully look at the effects such a strike would have on a civilian population. He is right of course, this is an important factor and it is one the RAF and other western air forces do consider. prior to carrying out a bombing sortie. In giving this response Corbyn tried to avoid the issue and in my mind showed his reluctance and naivety on this issue. The former US President, Barak Obama certainly had many liberal credentials and he acknowledged that targeted strikes were not a ‘cure all’, where he was haunted by the civilians who were unintentionally killed. While committed to capturing terrorist suspects, in difficult circumstances where this was not possible Obama saw drone attacks as saving lives. It is a not an acceptable state of affairs, but in areas like Syria where individuals who influence others to carry out attacks on a wider civilian population, drone attacks are a necessity.