A British man has been identified as the knife-wielding militant who appears in Islamic State videos claiming responsibility for the beheadings of US, British and other hostages.
It has been confirmed that Mohammed Emwazi, a 26-year-old west Londoner and university graduate, is the militant. He had been given the moniker “Jihadi John” by a group of his hostages, who described him as part of an Isis cell they named “the Beatles”.
The name was first published by the Washington Post on Thursday morning. Strenuous efforts appear to have been made to cover his tracks on the internet.
Emwazi guarded western hostages and handled negotiations with their families. By all accounts he is a ruthless killer who has shown little compunction about his gory, on-screen murders.
Emwazi arrived in Britain as a young boy, aged six, after being born in Kuwait. He grew up in west London and was known as a polite, mild-mannered young man.
Those who knew him say he had a penchant for wearing stylish clothes but remained an observant Muslim. The Post describes him as bearded and careful not to make eye contact with women.
He graduated in 2009 in information technology and is also fluent in Arabic. However, instead of building a computing career, Emwazi ended up on MI5’s radar.
Over the course of a year he claimed to have been harassed and intimidated by the security services. In 2010, he went as far as to file a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission over his treatment.
A US government official confirmed Emwazi’s identity after the British security services declined to confirm or deny that he was the knife-wielding killer. Downing Street also refused to comment on the reports.
David Cameron’s deputy spokeswoman said: “We cannot confirm or deny anything in relation to intelligence. The point the prime minister would make, which we have said since we have seen the awful actions of these Isil [Isis] terrorists, is that we are absolutely determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. The police and security agencies have been working hard to do that.”
Questioned about whether Emwazi was known to the security services, she said: “I’m not going to get into the details of an ongoing police and security investigation.”
Asked if Downing Street had any concerns about Emwazi being named, she said: “The point I would make is that there is an ongoing investigation. It is absolutely right that we allow the police and security agencies to do all they can to bring those responsible to justice and help keep British people safe.”
As early as September last year, MI5 and the FBI had identified Emwazi as the masked killer. They did not make his name public mainly because of fears about the impact his identification might have on hostages being held by Islamic State. A secondary reason was concern over the safety of Emwazi’s family in the UK, in case of retaliation.
The intelligence agencies are unable to comment on the claim that it tried to recruit Emwazi, in part because the killings of the hostages by his grouping are still a matter of police investigation. But the parliamentary intelligence and security committee report into the Lee Rigby murder sets out the agency’s position.
The intelligence committee wrote: “Agents are one of MI5’s most important sources of intelligence. MI5 often approaches subjects of interest (SoIs) in order to try to recruit them as agents.”
According to people who have moved in jihadi circles in west London, Emwazi began to be noticed about five or six years ago. “That’s when he emerged, so to speak,” said one. Among his associates at that time was Bilal el-Berjawi, a Londoner of Lebanese origin who was killed by a drone strike in Somalia three years ago.
In August 2009, Emwazi went on a supposed safari holiday to Tanzania, but on landing in the capital he said he was detained by police and held overnight.
In a series of statements to Cage, which campaigns on behalf of communities affected by the “war on terror”, Emwazi alleged he was threatened with beatings by gun-toting members of Tanzania’s security forces.


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