The masked Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John” has been named as Mohammed Emwazi, 26, a Kuwaiti-born British man from West London, United Kingdom.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. The Washington Post First Published His Name
The Washington Post published Emwazi’s name early Thursday morning, February 26, in an article titled ‘Jihadi John:’ Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi by Souad Mekhennet and Adam Goldman.
Their sources include a man named Asim Qureshi, a research director at the human rights group CAGE, who had been in close contact with Emwazi prior to his move to ISIS-held territory, and a close friend of Emwazi’s who remained unnamed in the article. Works done by Qureshi for CAGE include articles like “How the Government Makes You a Terrorist Without Even Arresting You” and “Guantanamo Bay: oxygen for the Islamic State.”
After the release of Emwazi’s name, The Guardian reports that “strenuous efforts appear to have been made to cover his [Emwazi’s] tracks on the internet.” A Google search of his name provides no social media accounts affiliated with a “Mohammed Emwazi.”
The Washington Post states his family has been approached by the media but has declined comment, saying they were seeking legal counsel. U.S. officials have also declined to comment.
2. He First Beheaded James Foley
Emwazi first appeared in a video in August 2014, when he apparently beheaded American journalist James Foley. His image became iconic in the terrorist videos because of his attire: all black robes with a balaclava on his head to cover his face.
You can watch the video of James Foley and Emwazi above. It has been edited to be less graphic, but is still NSFW.
Emwazi was was also apparently involved in the beheadings of American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Peter “Abdul-Rahman” Kassig.
3. He’s From Kuwait
According to the BBC, Emwazi is Kuwaiti-born but moved to the United Kingdom at age 6 and “was raised in a middle class area of West London and studied computer programming at the University of Westminster.”
The Washington Post writes that “Emwazi started to radicalize after a planned safari in Tanzania following his graduation from the University of Westminster.”
Emwazi and two other young Muslims went to Dar es Salaam in May 2009 but were refused entry. Upon their return to Europe, Emwazi claimed that the MI5, the British secret service agency, accused him of trying to go to Somalia and join the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab.
Emwazi denied these allegations and relocated to Kuwait around 2010 to start work at a computer company. He was in the process of planning a wedding when, upon traveling back to London, he was again detained by British police. After his release, he eventually traveled to Syria in 2012 and joined the Islamic State.
4. He Is Part of ‘The Beatles’
Emwazi’s terrorist affiliations have been known to the MI5 since 2011.
Upon his arrival in Syria, Emwazi was assigned the duty of guarding Western hostages along with two other ISIS militants from England. According to the BBC, hostages nicknamed the trio “John,” “Paul” and “Ringo” and collectively called them “The Beatles.”
Emwazi’s nickname comes from deceased Beatles member John Lennon.
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr has weighed in on the nicknames, voicing his disapproval in a Daily Mail article. He states that ISIS is against everything the Beatles stand for.
5. Jihadi John Had Previously Been Reported to Be Abdel-Majid Abdel Bary
Jihadi John’s identity has been known by government intelligence agencies since August 2014, but he was incorrectly named in previous reports. The Sunday Times wrote in August 2014:
MI5 and MI6 have identified the British fighter suspected of murdering the American journalist James Foley, senior government sources confirmed last night.
The masked man with a London accent, who is said to be known to fellow fighters as “Jihadi John”, was seen in the shocking video of Foley’s death released by the ISIS extremist army last week.
The naming of Mohammed Emwazi as “Jihadi John” means it is not the previously suspected British-born rapper, Abdel-Majid Abdel Bary, who had been named by non-government sources in October 2014 as the killer-propagandist.
However, Bary is still a terrorist wanted internationally.