A British man has been identified as the knife-wielding militant who
appears in Islamic State videos claiming responsibility for the
beheadings of US, British and other hostages.
The Guardian has confirmed that Mohammad Emwazi, a 26-year-old west
Londoner and university graduate, is the militant. He had been given the
moniker “Jihadi John” by a group of his hostages, who described him as
part of an Isis cell they named “the Beatles”.
The name was first published by the Washington Post on Thursday morning. Strenuous efforts appear to have been made to cover his tracks on the internet.
Emwazi guarded western hostages and handled negotiations with their
families. By all accounts he is a ruthless killer who has shown little
compunction about his gory, on-screen murders.
Emwazi arrived in Britain as a young boy, aged six, after being born
in Kuwait. He grew up in west London and was known as a polite,
mild-mannered young man.
Those who knew him say he had a penchant for wearing stylish clothes
but remained an observant Muslim. The Post describes him as bearded and
careful not to make eye contact with women.
He graduated in 2009 in information technology and is also fluent in
Arabic. However, instead of building a computing career, Emwazi ended up
on MI5’s radar.
Over the course of a year he claimed to have been harassed and
intimidated by the security services. In 2010, he went as far as to file
a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission over his
A US government official confirmed Emwazi’s identity to the Guardian,
after the British security services declined to confirm or deny that he
was the knife-wielding killer. Downing Street also refused to comment
on the reports.
David Cameron’s deputy spokeswoman said: “We cannot confirm or deny
anything in relation to intelligence. The point the prime minister would
make, which we have said since we have seen the awful actions of these
Isil [Isis] terrorists, is that we are absolutely determined to bring
the perpetrators to justice. The police and security agencies have been
working hard to do that.”
Questioned about whether Emwazi was known to the security services,
she said: “I’m not going to get into the details of an ongoing police
and security investigation.”
Asked if Downing Street had any concerns about Emwazi being named,
she said: “The point I would make is that there is an ongoing
investigation. It is absolutely right that we allow the police and
security agencies to do all they can to bring those responsible to
justice and help keep British people safe.”
As early as September last year, MI5 and the FBI had identified
Emwazi as the masked killer. They did not make his name public mainly
because of fears about the impact his identification might have on
hostages being held by Islamic State. A secondary reason was concern
over the safety of Emwazi’s family in the UK, in case of retaliation.
The intelligence agencies are unable to comment on the claim that it
tried to recruit Emwazi, in part because the killings of the hostages by
his grouping are still a matter of police investigation. But the
parliamentary intelligence and security committee report into the Lee
Rigby murder sets out the agency’s position.
The intelligence committee wrote: “Agents are one of MI5’s most
important sources of intelligence. MI5 often approaches subjects of
interest (SoIs) in order to try to recruit them as agents.”
According to people who have moved in jihadi circles in west London,
Emwazi began to be noticed about five or six years ago. “That’s when he
emerged, so to speak,” said one. Among his associates at that time was
Bilal el-Berjawi, a Londoner of Lebanese origin who was killed by a
drone strike in Somalia three years ago.
In August 2009, Emwazi went on a supposed safari holiday to Tanzania,
but on landing in the capital he said he was detained by police and
In a series of statements to Cage, which campaigns on behalf of
communities affected by the “war on terror”, Emwazi alleged he was
threatened with beatings by gun-toting members of Tanzania’s security
After being refused entry to Tanzania he was put on a plane to the
Netherlands, where he said he was questioned by an MI5 agent named
“Nick” who accused him of wanting to fight in Somalia, where the
militant group al-Shabaab operates in the southern part of the country.
The Independent in 2010 profiled a number of similar incidents and also identified Emwazi as Muhammad ibn Muazzam.
In emails seen by the Guardian, Emwazi said the British agent knew
“everything about me; where I lived, what I did, and the people I hang
around with”. He is then claimed to have tried to “turn” Emwazi, asking:
“Why don’t you work for us?” When he refused, MI5 said “life would be
harder for you”.
Emwazi remained entangled with MI5. Over the next few months, he was again detained and interrogated.
Emwazi decided to move to Kuwait, where he landed a job working for a
computer company, according to the emails he wrote to Cage. He came
back to London twice, the second time to finalise his wedding plans to a
woman in Kuwait.
In June 2010, however, counter-terrorism officials in Britain
detained him again – this time fingerprinting him and searching his
belongings. When he tried to fly back to Kuwait the next day, he was
prevented from doing so. In his final interrogation he claimed to have
been strangled by a police officer.
Emwazi is thought to have been incensed by the decision to bar him
from Kuwait, the land of his birth, and where he had worked and planned
“I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started,” he wrote in
a June 2010 email to Cage. But now “I feel like a prisoner, only not in
a cage, in London. A person imprisoned & controlled by security
service men, stopping me from living my new life in my birthplace &
Cage said that it spent two years communicating with Emwazi, in which
he highlighted interference by the UK security agencies as he sought to
find redress within the system.
He told the organisation: “I have been trying to find out the reason
for my refused visa issue from my home country Kuwait, and a way to
solve the issue. So through my friends in Kuwait, it has been said to me
that Kuwait has no problem with me entering, and the reason for my
refusal is simply because the UK agents have told them to not let me
Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, said there were parallels with the killer of Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo.
“Suffocating domestic policies aimed at turning a person into an
informant but which prevent a person from fulfilling their basic life
needs would have left a lasting impression on Emwazi. He desperately
wanted to use the system to change his situation, but the system
ultimately rejected him.”
But a leading researcher into counter-terrorism and intelligence,
Shashank Joshi of the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said
it was MI5’s job to recruit informers.
He rejected the Cage narrative of radicalisation by the British state
as simplistic. “It seems to me MI5 did a reasonable job,” Joshi said.
MI5 had enough evidence to show Emwazi was associated with radical
elements early on and had good reason to watch him, he said.
Close friends of Emwazi told the Post that his situation in London
had made him desperate to leave the country. It is unclear exactly when
he reached Syria or how.
One friend said he believed Emwazi wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia
to teach English in 2012 but was unsuccessful. He left soon afterwards,
the friend said.
“He was upset and wanted to start a life elsewhere,” one of the
friends said. “He at some stage reached the point where he was really
just trying to find another way to get out.”
By 2012 he told friends he wanted to go to Syria. Almost all advised him against it.
Before he was named publicly, web searches for his name brought up
only results from the electoral roll, listing various west London
addresses where he lived with his family.
Similarly, his brother’s Facebook account has been deleted, as have
various social media, and UK LinkedIn profiles connected to his sister,
though she now appears to have a new, Kuwait-based LinkedIn page.
Emwazi and Berjawi were members of a loose-knit group of young
Muslims from the North Kensington area of west London who attended the
same mosques and played five-a-side football together.
Another member of the group, Mohamed Sakr, was killed in a drone
strike in Somalia a few weeks after Berjawi. Although born in the UK, he
was a dual UK-Egyptian national; the UK government had stripped him of
his British citizenship shortly before he was killed.
Some members of this group were investigated by MI5 because of their
links with the men who attempted to carry out a wave of bombings on
London’s underground train network on 21 July 2005.
Others came to the attention of the authorities in other ways.
Mohammed Ezzouek, for example, who attended North Westminster Community
school with Berjawi, was interrogated by British intelligence officers
after a trip to Somalia in 2006; another schoolmate, Tariq al-Daour, has
been released from jail after serving a sentence for inciting
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