Reyaad Khan: Dead Again

A Tweet from Shiraz Maher of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London, 20 July:

The Tweet was picked up widely in the media; according to the Guardian (21 July):

On social media, an account believed to belong to a female British jihadi in Syria said on 17 July that “Abu Dujana” ( a name used for Khan) had been “lost”. Employing a term used by jihadis to describe dead fighters, she went on to describe him as having become a “green bird”.

Similarly, the Daily Mail reported that:

Like many British jihadis, Khan was a frequent Twitter user with multiple posts daily, but his last tweet came on July 6 – the day before he was reportedly killed.

It comes after a number of Islamic State supporters claimed he had died on Twitter. 

British jihadi convert Raphael Hostey, 22, from Manchester, who is said to lure Britons to become ISIS fighters or jihadi brides in Syria, reported it.

Under the name Abu Qaqa, Hostey tweeted: ‘I remember Abu Dujana Britani said he wanted shahada [martyrdom] in Ramadan.’

However, a few weeks later, on 2 September, the BBC had further details – and a later death date:

A Cardiff man who is one of three from the city to have joined a jihadist group in Syria has died, BBC Wales has been told.

Reyaad Khan, 21, was killed in a US drone strike at the end of August.

Officials from the Jalalia mosque in Riverside said the death was confirmed by his family at Friday prayers.

…In July, there was widespread media speculation that Reyaad Khan had been killed in an earlier missile attack in Syria but the BBC was unable to confirm those reports at the time.

And a few days after that, from 7 September:

A Cardiff jihadist who was one of three men from the city to have joined a group in Syria was killed by the RAF.

Reyaad Khan, 21, died on 21 August, along with another man, in a “precision airstrike” in Syria, the Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.

Addressing MPs, Mr Cameron said: “Both Junaid Hussain and Reyaad Khan, were British nationals based in Syria who were involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.”

On 8 August, it was reported that “police and MI5 are involved in a frantic race against time” to thwart a planned terrorist attack on the Queen on VJ Day that was “being orchestrated from Syria by Islamic State commanders”. However, despite considerable press coverage, Khan’s name not emerge again at the time.

Cameron’s announcement comes in the wake of calls for British military action in Syria as a response to the refugee crisis; the Sun newspaper has been particularly bullish on the issue, suggesting that bombing raids would be “for Aylan” (the drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi) and headlining the current Labour leadership candidates as “cowards” for not approving them.

It seems to me that:

(a) The ICSR should have been more circumspect about being “confident” on 20 July. I suspect the lure of easy media interest was too great.

(b) The BBC simply assumed on 2 September that Khan must have been killed by a “US drone strike”. This was a reasonable assumption, but it appears to have resulted in incorrect information being reported as fact.

UPDATE (later same day): The Guardian reports:

The prime minister told MPs on Monday that Reyaad Khan was killed in an air strike on 21 August as he travelled in a vehicle near Raqqah in Syria… Junaid Hussain, another Briton, was killed in a US air strike three days later as part of a joint operation after intelligence suggested that Khan and Hussain were plotting to attack the VE Day ceremony, presided over by the Queen on 10 May, and an Armed Forces Day ceremony to mark the death of Lee Rigby.

However, the “VE Day” in May detail is perhaps an error; various other sources, including the Telegraph, reported yesterday that (emphases added):

Khan, 21, was targeted after it emerged he was leading a plot to attack the VJ Day commemoration services in London in August, government sources said.

Cameron’s statement on the subject is non-specific. It is curious that reports about Khan’s plot reached the media on 8 August, but not the news that reports of Khan’s death in July had been erroneous.

(H/T Peter Jukes)