The ISIS militant known as “Jihadi John”—the man in the black balaclava who seems to have beheaded several foreign hostages on video—was identified Thursday by the Washington Post as Mohammed Emwazi, “a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.”
The paper discovered Emwazi’s identity from his friends and others familiar with his case. The New York Times later confirmed the report with an unnamed “senior British security official,” who told the paper that the British government had known Emwazi was the man behind the black balaclava for some time but had kept his name a secret for operational reasons. British and American officials, meanwhile, have refused to confirm the news on the record.
According to the reports, Emwazi, now 27, was born in Kuwait and later raised in a middle-class neighborhood in West London. He graduated with a degree in computer programing from the University of Westminster. “Those who knew him say he was polite and had a penchant for wearing stylish clothes while adhering to the tenets of his Islamic faith,” according to the Post. As for his radicalization, his friends suggest that the turning point occurred on the way to a post-graduation safari in Tanzania with friends:
Once they landed in Dar es Salaam, in May 2009, they were detained by police and held overnight. It’s unclear whether the reason for the detention was made clear to the three, but they were eventually deported. Emwazi flew to Amsterdam, where he claimed that an officer from MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, accused him of trying to reach Somalia, where the militant group al-Shabab operates in the southern part of the country, according to e-mails that he sent to [Asim Qureshi, a research director at the rights group, CAGE] and that were provided to The Post. …
Emwazi and his friends were allowed to return to Britain. … Shortly afterward, Emwazi decided to move to his birthplace, Kuwait, where he landed a job working for a computer company, according to the e-mails he wrote to Qureshi. He came back to London twice, the second time to finalize his wedding plans to a woman in Kuwait.
In June 2010, however, counterterrorism 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.
Eventually he made his way to Syria (exactly when or how remains unknown). In August of this year, he was featured in an ISIS video that appeared to show him beheading American journalist James Foley. What is believed to be the same balaclava-clad man with a British accent was then seen in a string of beheading videos that followed—those of American journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Cawthorne Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Peter Kassig. Just last month the militant was seen in a video with two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, before they were killed.