‘Jihadi John’ killed on eve of Paris attacks
LONDON - “This guy was a human animal. Killing him has probably made the world a little bit of a better place,” Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren said on the death of infamous Islamic State (ISIS) executioner “Jihadi John”.
Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John”, was killed in a US drone strike in the ISIS self-declared capital Raqqa on November 12th after a reign of terror in which he had killed at least seven Western and Japanese hostages.
Dressed all in black, his features hidden behind a balaclava, Emwazi’s London accent had been the last thing heard by American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, US aid worker Peter Kassig and Japanese nationals Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa before their deaths.
Emwazi’s execution videos, in which he brutally beheaded prisoners while spouting Islamist propaganda, had been a major recruiting tool for ISIS and his death represents a major blow for the group.
“This is significant of course because ‘Jihadi John’ was something of an ISIS celebrity if you will — the face of the organisation in many senses… so there is a significant blow to their prestige. He was a primary recruitment tool for that organisation,” Warren said.
Emwazi’s death represented a much-needed propaganda victory for the West. “If confirmed, the targeted killing of Emwazi will be a tactical and psychological achievement for the anti-ISIS coalition,” the British Guardian newspaper’s Middle East Editor Ian Black wrote.
While the United States said it was “reasonably confident” that Emwazi was killed in the drone strike, obtaining 100% confirmation is problematic given the area where attack occurred. ISIS has yet to issue a statement confirming Emwazi’s death and some observers say the group could carry out retaliatory attacks.
Following the announcement of Emwazi’s death, UK intelligence revealed that it was on high alert and monitoring 750 British citizens, some 450 of whom had returned from Syria. The announcement came just before the Paris terrorist attacks, with analysts saying that ISIS has issued renewed calls for those who want to join it but can’t to stay and undertake attacks in the West.
Emwazi, born in Kuwait in 1988 moved to the United Kingdom in 1994. Former friends and acquaintances spoke to the press recalling someone who was quiet and shy, completely unlike the knife-wielding executioner he became. CAGE, a London-based advocacy group, has controversially said that UK security services, which were closely monitoring Emwazi at the time, played a role in his radicalisation.
Despite being on a watch list, Emwazi made it to Syria in 2013. He quickly rose through the ISIS ranks from guarding Western captives in Idlib to executing them. It was also here that he earned his nickname “Jihadi John”, one of four British guards who were nicknamed after the Beatles.
Emwazi was the most high-profile British national to join ISIS, with estimates that some 1,600 Britons have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for the group. Officials hope his death will serve as a deterrent.
“I have always said that we would do whatever was necessary, whatever it took, to track down Emwazi and stop him taking the lives of others,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said after announcing Emwazi’s death.
“He posed an ongoing and serious threat to innocent civilians not only in Syria but around the world and in the UK, too. He was ISIS’s lead executioner and let us never forget that he killed many, many Muslims, too. And he was intent on murdering many more people. So this was an act of self-defence. It was the right thing to do,” Cameron added.
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn questioned the extrajudicial killing. “It appears Mohammed Emwazi has been held to account for his callous and brutal crimes. However, it would have been far better for us if he had been held to account in a court of law,” he said.
But for many, Emwazi’s death couldn’t have come sooner. Bethany Haines, daughter of murdered aid worker David Haines, expressed relief at the news. “After seeing the news that ‘Jihadi John’ was killed, I felt an instant sense of relief, knowing that he wouldn’t appear in anymore horrific videos,” she told ITV News.