U.S. and British officials are confident, yet unable to immediately confirm, the success of an American military airstrike that sought to kill Mohammed Emwazi, the infamous Islamic State executioner, known globally as “Jihadi John.”
Pentagon officials have confirmed the strike, a Hellfire missile fired from a Reaper drone, that targeted a car Emwazi and another militant were believed to be traveling in near the ISIS-held city of Al-Raqqa, Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at news conference in Tunisia, said the mission’s success was still being assessed. “There is no future, no path forward for Daesh, which does not lead ultimately to its elimination, to its destruction,” added Kerry, using the acronym for the Islamic State’s full Arabic name.
Emwazi was born in Kuwait but raised in London where he attended the University of Westminster, graduating in 2009 with a degree in computer programming. It’s believed Emwazi left London in 2012 and travelled to Syria where he later joined ISIS. He became a high-value target for the U.S. military and its allies in August 2014 after he began appearing in ISIS execution videos.
Sources formerly close to Emwazi say the 27-year-old became radicalized after repeated run-ins with security officials, who he believed were harassing him because he was Muslim. After graduating from college, he reportedly travelled with a group of friends to Tanzania for a safari, but was detained upon arrival by police, then stripped of his clothing and kept in a cell for 24 hours.
After being deported to Amsterdam, Dutch and British intelligence officials interrogated Emwazi, allegedly on the suspicion that he planned to join al-Shabab militants in Somalia. Fearing he would be continuously targeted, his family says he later moved to Kuwait to pursue a computer job, which he lost when officials blocked him from returning home following a trip to the U.K.
After disappearing in 2013, Emwazi’s family was told by police that he’d entered Syria. It’s believed once there he was tasked by an ISIS commander with guarding Western hostages, along with three other militants, collectively dubbed “the Beatles” due to their English accents—hence the nickname, “Jihadi John.”
British and U.S. authorities say Emwazi is the black-clad man pictured holding a knife in multiple ISIS beheading videos, including those depicting the deaths of American hostages James Foley, Abdul-Rahman Kassig, and Steven Sotfloff, and Britons Alan Henning and David Haines.
According to the New York Times, a senior official with the U.S. military said on Friday that it may take a few days before Emwazi’s death is confirmed.
Photo via tomsun/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III