Irish Islamic State fighter ‘Khalid Kelly’ kills himself in Iraq suicide bombing
An Irish former altar boy has become the latest suicide bomber to blow himself up as part of Islamic State’s furious defence of Mosul , its last major stronghold in Iraq.
Khalid Kelly, born Terrence Edward in south Dublin in 1967, converted to Islam when serving a jail term in Saudi Arabia for illegally brewing home-made alcohol. He was known in Iraq by the nom de guerre Abu Usama al-Irlandi – a reference to his eldest son and homeland.
Pictures of him standing with a rifle, hand-held radio and baseball cap in front of a suicide attack vehicle, circulated on social media soon after the attack. He was reportedly near the city of Tel Afar, west of Mosul on the route to Syria, where IS is under attack from Shia militias allied to Baghdad. The Site intelligence group, which tracks militant websites, said IS had issued a statement about Kelly’s suicide attack and including a picture of the Irishman.
IS has become expert in welding steel plates to “suicide vehicles”, from jeeps to bulldozers, to create improvised armour so they can drive towards enemy positions under fire. Kelly appears to have used one of those vehicles.
There were no details of who was targeted in the attack, one of dozens launched by IS fighters trying to slow the progress of Iraqi and Kurdish forces towards their last major stronghold in Iraq.
The attacks have taken a heavy toll in some areas, but have not halted the advance of a broad coalition backed by US air power, which has already taken several districts in the eastern outskirts of Mosul and is advancing on several other fronts.
Iraqi troops south of Mosul were fighting on Saturday for the last town left between them and the city, Hammam al-Alil, where the commander of Mosul operations said they had thwarted three attempted suicide bombings.
The IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi chose Mosul to make his only public appearance and stake out the group’s claim to rule two years ago. Retaking the city would effectively crush the Iraqi half of their self-declared caliphate, and be a major blow to morale.
Satellite images showed the group had set up daunting defences of the city centre to frustrate their attackers, including concrete and rubble barricades and earthen berms. The group was also using civilians as human shields , had dug extensive tunnel networks to try to outflank attackers, and prepared units of dozens of suicide bombers, such as Kelly.
The father of three, who had been working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia but found alcohol production to be more lucrative, was deported from the country when he completed his jail term around 2000.
Back in the UK, he joined the now banned al-Muhajiroun. He eventually became head of its Irish branch and a well-known spokesman for extremism, even appearing on a talk show with the notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary .
He went to train and fight in Pakistan , before returning to Ireland under mysterious circumstances in 2010, and was arrested in 2011 for threatening to assassinate the US president, Barack Obama , on a visit to his ancestral family home.
His support for IS was clear from the early days of the group’s rise to prominence. In an interview with a Dublin radio station in 2014 he praised its fighters as “brothers” and described the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded by the group in public videos, as “spies”.
He had said in previous interviews that his heart felt “comforted” every time he watched footage of the 9/11 attacks, and in 2015 he left Ireland to join IS.