The true identity of one of the most notorious members of the Islamic State has been revealed. While he is dubbed “Jihadi John,” The Post’s Souad Mekhennet and Adam Goldman reported on Wednesday that his real name is Mohammed Emwazi.
But how did Emwazi become “Jihadi John”? And, perhaps more importantly, can his background tell us anything about the Islamic State? Here are five key points.
He’s a British citizen who was born in Kuwait.
When videos featuring “Jihadi John” first began to spread, many analysts focused on his British accent. Word soon spread that former hostages held by the Islamic State said he was one of a number of British Islamic State members, who had been dubbed “The Beatles.”
The Post’s reporting confirms that Emwazi, who was born in Kuwait, is British, growing up in West London rather than East London as some speculated. He is one of an estimated 600 British citizens who have traveled to Syria to fight.
He’s educated and from a middle-class background.
Emwazi was raised in a relatively well-to-do family. The Guardian reportshe was known as a “polite, mild-mannered young man.” He graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in computer programming and later worked for a computer company in Kuwait.
Such a background will play into ongoing debates about whether poverty is a “root cause” of extremism.
He faced years of investigation by British security agencies.
After Emwazi graduated from the University of Westminster, he and two friends planned to take a safari trip in Tanzania. However, when they landed in May 2009, they were detained and eventually deported from the country. Emwazi then flew to Amsterdam, where he told friends he was questioned by MI5 and accused of trying to reach Somalia to join the Islamist extremist group al-Shabab.
The incident was detailed in a 2010 article in the Independent, in whichEmwazi’s friends said they were told they were on a terror watchlist and were held in inhumane and illegal conditions. Emwazi was detained again by counterterrorism officials when he returned to Britain from Kuwait in 2010 and was prevented from returning to Kuwait, where he had been living at the time.
This all had a profound effect on him. “I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started,” he wrote in a June 2010 e-mail to Asim Qureshi, research director at the rights group CAGE. “I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.”
It’s unclear why Emwazi was under investigation, though the BBC reportsthat he was “linked to a man with connections to al-Shabab.” In a statement, Qureshi of CAGE condemned Emwazi’s treatment by British security agencies: “He desperately wanted to use the system to change his situation, but the system ultimately rejected him.”
Somehow, he got to Syria.
Friends told The Post that in 2012 Emwazi hoped to travel to Saudi Arabia to teach English, but his attempts were unsuccessful. At some point later, he appears to have vanished. Despite the attention placed on him by the British security agencies, he somehow made it to Syria, a place he had discussed going since 2012, according to the Guardian.
The next we hear of Emwazi is in 2013, when he is believed to have guarded Western captives at a prison in Idlib, Syria. In 2014, the hostages were moved to the city of Raqqa, and Emwazi took on a more important role within the Islamic State.
In August 2014, “Jihadi John” appeared in a video in which American journalist James Foley was killed, and he became infamous around the world. Since then, he has been seen in at least seven other videos, including the ones where British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning were beheaded.
He left remarkably little trace online.
Little information about Emwazi existed online before his name was released on Thursday. No social media accounts were found that could be linked to him. As the Guardian notes, extensive online searching revealed only his name on Britain’s electoral roll. Members of his family appear to have deleted their online presences.
It seems likely that Emwazi didn’t want his identity known. In a number of videos, his voice was digitally altered, apparently in an attempt to disguise it. In the end, authorities used a variety of different techniques to identify Emwazi as “Jihadi John,” including voice analysis and interviews with former hostages.