The Islamic State fighter who first appeared in the video of the beheading of journalist James Foley last August was formerly known only as ‘Jihadi John’, but Thursday he was revealed to be Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen.
Mr. Emwazi’s transition from angry teen to militant was a series of missed opportunities. Then, years of conflict and frustration with the British security services pushed him to act on his radicalism and leave Britain to join IS.
Emwazi was born in Kuwait but when he was 6 years old his family moved to Queens Park, a middle-class area of London. During his childhood, Emwazi underwent treatment for anger issues, according to the Times of London. One of his neighbors reported hearing loud arguments come from the family’s home.
The family was religious, but not radical. It is unknown how, exactly, Emwazi’s developed his sympathies for radical Islam, but The Times also suggests that he was drawn in by a group of extremists who supported the Somalia-based group Al-Shabaab. Also, TIME magazine reported that a former ISIS hostage said Jihadi John “was obsessed with Somalia” and forced his prisoners to watch videos about Al-Shabaab.
But a lot happened between when Enwazi initially became interested in radical Islam and when he left the UK to fight for the Islamic State.
In 2009, he and two friends took a trip to Tanzania and were detained while trying to cross into Somalia, an attempt that was apparently noted by British security services
Emwazi claimed that MI5, the UK's domestic intelligence service, tried to recruit him when he returned to Britain. Security officials threatened him when he refused, saying “You’re going to have a lot of trouble…You’re going to be known…you’re going to be followed…life will be harder for you,” according to TIME magazine.
Being a target of British intelligence, it seems, prompted Emwazi to descend deeper into militancy. He was repeatedly denied permission to leave the UK, and he filed a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission claiming he had been harassed and intimidated by the security services after MI5 supposedly contacted his fiancé in Kuwait and scared her and her family into canceling the marriage.
BBC News reports Emwazi saying that “sometimes I feel like a dead man walking." Although he was not afraid that MI5 would kill him, he talked of overdosing on sleeping pills to get away from British security service scrutiny, according to NBC News.
In September, the United States announced its plan to prevent Americans from joining IS by bringing together community representatives, religious leaders, and public safety and Justice Department officials to design local strategies to counter violent extremism.
But proactive attempts to prevent radicalization are needed all over the world, say officials.
“The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global," French President Francois Hollande said at the International Conference on Peace and Security in Iraq in Paris according to NBC. "There is no time to lose."