His death had been erroneously reported multiple times, including in 2015 when American officials said they had confirmed that he was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Syria. But German authorities said Friday that photographs circulated on social media on Thursday night offered "strong indications" that the lifeless person shown in them was indeed Cuspert.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the online activity of extremist organizations, obtained several photos that appeared to show the body of Cuspert, along with a statement announcing his death. The photos and the statement were believed to have been originally circulated by the pro-Islamic State Wafa Media Foundation, but so far no official Islamic State media outlet has confirmed Cuspert's death.
The statement released by the foundation claims that Cuspert was killed Wednesday in an airstrike in the town of Gharanij in eastern Syria.
Even though German officials voiced confidence that the person shown on the released images was Cuspert, the photos’ origins could not be independently verified. Charlie Winter, a researcher who studies Islamic State propaganda at London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, cautioned that the Wafa Media Foundation is not an official Islamic State platform and may have previously been hacked or infiltrated. Winter also cited a warning by one Islamic State supporter not to trust the Wafa Media Foundation’s release on Cuspert.
“While photographs of dead foreign fighters do sometimes emerge, it is unusual for a eulogy like this one to be published,” said Winter, referring to the original statement circulated by Wafa.
But in encrypted messages exchanged with The Washington Post, a close friend of Cuspert's said he recognized certain physical features in the released photos. He noted, however, that he and Cuspert were not in the same location at the time of the airstrike and said he had not seen the body himself.
"The ears look very much like Abu Talha's, and also some of the scars in the face of the person in the photograph look like the ones I know he had," wrote the close friend, who referred to Cuspert by his fighter name.
Both men had known each other for almost 10 years and shared support for jihadist ideologies.
Cuspert, the son of a Ghanaian father and a German mother, became a gang member while growing up in Berlin. Like a growing number of European militants, Cuspert was convicted several times before becoming a militant.
After spending time in an institution for young criminals, Cuspert started rapping in the 1990s under the name Deso Dogg, which was short for “Devil’s Son.” Despite his criminal past, he gained prominence in the entertainment industry in 2006 when he toured with U.S. rapper DMX.
Cuspert later converted to Islam and ended his rapper career in 2010 following a car accident.
The radicalized ex-artist eventually traveled to Syria, where he joined the Islamic State, and he quickly became involved in the group’s propaganda efforts, appearing multiple times in video releases. In one video, Cuspert held the severed head of a victim.
Cuspert also became the focus of a court case against an FBI translator with top-security clearance, Daniela Greene, who traveled to Syria in 2014 to marry him. She stayed in Islamic State territory for several weeks before returning to the United States, where she was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
The State Department designated Cuspert a “global terrorist” in 2015.
As the Islamic State encountered mounting resistance and was pushed back, the group's propaganda releases significantly declined — including the ones featuring Cuspert. Instead, separate reports of his death multiplied. Thursday’s photos could now end the speculation, German officials appear to be convinced.
Mekhennet reported from Frankfurt, Germany.
More on WorldViews: