Jihadi John: What do we really know about him?
Mohammed Emwazi, the person behind the ISIS "Jihadi John" mask, had anger management issues in his youth. Does this reveal anything about his motivations?
On Thursday, the Washington Post and the BBC reported the identity of the ISIS militant who beheaded multiple hostages for the world to see. Formerly nicknamed “Jihadi John,” the mysterious black-clad executioner is now known to be Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Londoner who went off the grid around 2012.
Emwazi, who is in his mid-20s, first came to the public’s eye in August, most notably as the executioner of American journalist James Foley. He played a role in subsequent videos of hostage killings, including another American reporter, Steven Sotloff, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.
So what do we really know about him?
With the revelation of his identity, investigators have dug into his back story in search of why and how he came to be a prominent member of the self-described Islamic State aka ISIS. Those who knew him in his pre-extremist days have offered insight into his early life.
A decade ago, Emwazi was a secondary school student at Quintin Kynaston Community Academy in Queens Park, London. He came from an affluent West London family. The BBC reported that a former teacher has come forward to say that as a student, he had anger management issues for which he received therapy during his first year at the school.
"We'd find that he'd get very angry and worked up and it would take him a long time to calm himself down, so we did a lot of work as a school to help him with his anger and to control his emotions," the teacher said. "It seemed to work. He had a lot of respect for all of the work that had been done for him at our school."
The teacher continued to say that after receiving help, Emwazi was a “lovely, lovely boy” who had a “real willingness to try and succeed.” He went to the school of his choice, and was regarded as a “success story.”
He graduated from the University of Westminster, where he received a degree in computer programming. After his graduation, he and two friends attempted a safari trip to Tanzania in 2009, estimated to be the time he began to radicalize. They were detained and eventually deported by police for unclear reasons.
He then flew to Amsterdam, where he claimed to be illegally interrogated by MI5, the British domestic security department. It was here that he was accused of attempting to join a militant group in Somalia.
Emwazi moved to Kuwait, but still had multiple run-ins with British counterterrorism officials over the past five years. At one point, he was detained in London and unable to return to Kuwait, where he claimed to have a job and a fiancée. At the time he wrote in an email to Asim Qureshi, research director at British advocacy group CAGE, who made the email available to the Washington Post.
“I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started,” Emwazi wrote to Mr. Qureshi in the June 2010 email. “[But now] I feel like a prisoner . . . A person imprisoned & controlled by security service men, stopping me from living my new life in my birthplace & country, Kuwait.”
Despite being on MI5’s radar, he somehow escaped to Syria as early as 2012. British officials have been criticized for their inability to keep tabs on Emwazi, and some have suggested that revenge against the British government may be one his motivations in joining ISIS. British Prime Minister David Cameron rejected claims that his agents contributed to Emwazi’s radicalization, calling the allegations “reprehensible.”
Sajjan Gohel, the director of international security at the Asia Pacific Foundation, said that now that the world knows the identity of “Jihadi John,” he can no longer act without taking ownership of his actions.
"Now, this individual has been outed," said Sajjan Gohel, reported CBS News. "He's been demasked. His aura of fear that he was trying to instill has effectively fallen by the wayside. He is going to be more intimidated next time he appears in a video. He may still be masked, but now he knows that everybody around the world knows who he is and what he's done."