In early June, the British Islamic State member Sally Jones joined an exodus of jihadists from Raqqa as Kurdish and Arab forces closed in on the once impregnable capital of the terror group’s so-called caliphate.
With her on the long march were foreigners and their families who had been based in Raqqa throughout Isis’s meteoric rise and then bloody decline. Many had arrived at the height of its powers from mid-2014. Less than three years later they were engaged in an ignominious retreat.
During her years with Isis, Sally Jones, dubbed “the white widow”, had become one of the group’s most senior females, given the job of indoctrinating other women, as part of the Anwar al-Awlaki brigades, and sending some on suicide missions. Killing her had been a priority of both US and UK intelligence, which had painstakingly tried to dismantle the group’s external operations capacity which was tasked with carrying out attacks abroad.
On the run, along with thousands of other foreigners, she was finally tracked to near the Syrian border. Washington and London are confident, but not certain, that Jones was killed. The fate of her 12-year-old son, Jojo, remains unclear. If her death is confirmed, Jones would join a handful of other British nationals killed in drone strikes. Her husband, Junaid Hussein, believed to be the head of Isis’s digital security unit, was killed near Raqqa in mid-2015. Ruhul Amin, from Aberdeen, and Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff, have also been killed by drones in the past two years.
With Raqqa now thought to be around two weeks away from completely falling to Kurdish and Arab forces, the ranks of Isis’s most hardcore foreigners have been steadily disintegrating. Another Briton, Jack Letts – dubbed “Jihadi Jack” – was captured in the deserts north of Raqqa in the summer. He, like dozens of other foreigners, remains in Kurdish captivity in north-eastern Syria. Further east, drone strikes and special forces operations have intensified as what remains of Isis’s organised elements tries to regroup in both Deir Azzour and Mayedin.