A clandestine US military campaign using drone strikes to hunt Islamic State operatives including Australian Neil Prakash is being is carried out by the same command that oversaw the elite commando unit responsible for killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
US officials have confirmed the targeted kill program is being run off the books of a wider military offensive against the Islamic State, and has been responsible for several recent successful strikes against senior operatives, including a high-profile British militant believed to have incited a terror attack in Texas.
The militant, Junaid Hussain, killed last month, was a close associate of Prakash who security authorities regard as one of the group’s top recruiters of foreign fighters.
“These people are being identified and targeted through a separate effort,” a senior US official familiar with the operation said, according to the Washington Post.
US officials also confirmed the secret campaign was part of a collaboration between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – which includes the unit that raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
The program, which is aimed at terrorism suspects deemed “high-value targets”, was being carried out exclusively by JSOC, the officials said.
“The decision to enlist the CIA and JSOC reflects rising anxiety among US counterterrorism officials about the danger the Islamic State poses, as well as frustration with the failure of conventional strikes to degrade the groups strength,” the newspaper said.
Despite the attention, Prakash remains active as a recruiter for the Islamic State, and continues to take to social media to encourage would-be jihadists to travel to Syria and Iraq.
He has also scoffed at being on a kill list, tweeting in response: “Just send me a cruise with a couple of tonnes, a predator drone and a paradise missile!”
Another militant known by the nom de guerre Abu Qaqa al-Baritani, and who describes Prakash as his “co-worker” in recruitment, posted a message advising that “Hijrah (migration) to Libya, Yemen and Sinai are available”.
It’s believed Abu Qaqa al-Baritani is 22-year-old British man Raphael Hostey.
While Prakash, according to reports, has been added to the list of “high-value” targets, other reports have claimed intelligence agencies believe he is part of an Islamic State unit called Anwar al-Awlaki Brigade, which includes those considered by the terror group as average fighters and cannon fodder.