Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. “Jihadi John,” was a Kuwaiti-born British man who joined ISIS in Syria in 2013 and became known as one of the group’s most brutal executioners.Foreign Staff, “Jihadi John named as Mohammed Emwazi, from west London,” Telegraph (London), February 26, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11436596/Jihadi-John-named-as-Mohammed-Emwazi-from-west-London.html;
Tom Whitehead and Harry Yorke, “Jihadi John's fourth Beatle unmasked as refugee given shelter in UK,” Telegraph (London), May 23, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/23/jihadi-johns-fourth-beatle-unmasked-as-refugee-given-shelter-in/. He was featured in multiple ISIS videos in which he beheaded captives including American journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff, American aid worker Peter Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.Michael Holden and Ahmed Aboulenein, “British PM Cameron vows to hunt down ‘Jihadi John’,” Reuters, February 28, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/28/us-mideast-crisis-britain-cameron-idUSKBN0LV16H20150228. In the videos, Emwazi threatened U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and other world leaders.Michael Holden and Ahmed Aboulenein, “British PM Cameron vows to hunt down ‘Jihadi John’,” Reuters, February 28, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/28/us-mideast-crisis-britain-cameron-idUSKBN0LV16H20150228. He belonged to a four-member ISIS unit known as “The Beatles,” which included British foreign fighters Alexanda Amon Kotey, Aine Davis, and El Shafee Elsheikh. Emwazi was targeted and killed in a November 2015 U.S. drone strike in Raqqa, Syria.Dana Ford and Steve Almasy, “ISIS confirms death of ‘Jihadi John,’” CNN, January 20, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/19/middleeast/jihadi-john-dead/.
Emwazi was raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Queens Park, London.Foreign Staff, “Jihadi John named as Mohammed Emwazi, from west London,” Telegraph (London), February 26, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11436596/Jihadi-John-named-as-Mohammed-Emwazi-from-west-London.html. In the early 2000s, Emwazi and future Beatles members Kotey and Davis reportedly attended the Al-Manaar mosque in Landbroke Grove, London.Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes, “ISIS Accomplice Of ‘Jihadi John’ Named As ‘Quiet And Humble’ Londoner,” BuzzFeed News, February 8, 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/unmasked-the-second-member-of-isiss-beatles-execution-cell?utm_term=.hblMB4XJj#.bx3DJ2X7r. Emwazi then joined the London Boys, a radical network linked to terrorist plots in the United Kingdom including the 7/7 bombings.Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes, “ISIS Accomplice Of ‘Jihadi John’ Named As ‘Quiet And Humble’ Londoner,” BuzzFeed News, February 8, 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/unmasked-the-second-member-of-isiss-beatles-execution-cell?utm_term=.hblMB4XJj#.bx3DJ2X7r. Kotey was also reported to be a member.Adam Goldman and Souad Mekhennet, “Another Islamic State jailer who held Western hostages identified as Londoner,” Washington Post, February 7, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/another-islamic-state-jailer-who-held-western-hostages-identified-as-londoner/2016/02/06/a0f11d28-cc10-11e5-ae11-57b6aeab993f_story.html?utm_term=.9a89ab81d23c. British authorities have described the London Boys as “a network of United Kingdom and East African based Islamist extremists.”Colin Freeman, “Ladbroke Grove connection - the wealthy west London district that bred Jihadi John,” Telegraph (London), February 26, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11438534/Ladbroke-Grove-connection-the-wealthy-west-London-district-that-bred-Jihadi-John.html.
In the mid-2000s, Emwazi attended Britain’s University of Westminster, where he was exposed to the ideology of international Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir through the university’s Islamic Society. Maajid Nawaz, “The Education of ‘Jihadi John,’” New York Times, March 3, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/opinion/the-education-of-jihadi-john.html. During Emwazi’s years as a student at the University of Westminster, the Islamic Society organized on-campus panels that included HT members as speakers.Sara Malm, “100 members of controversial Islamic group linked to radicalised British students including Jihadi John have ‘joined forces with al Qaeda in Syria,’” Daily Mail (London), April 11, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3034733/100-members-controversial-Islamic-group-linked-radicalised-British-students-including-Jihadi-John-joined-forces-al-Qaeda-Syria.html. Emwazi graduated in 2009 with a degree in computer science.“’Jihadi John’ named as Mohammed Emwazi from London,” BBC News, February 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31637090.
The United Kingdom’s MI5 and Scotland Yard reportedly monitored Emwazi between 2009 and 2012.Robert Verkaik, “Mohammed Emwazi: 'Jihadi John' warned younger brother not to follow him to Syria and Isis,” Independent (London), January 24, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/jihadi-john-mohammed-emwazi-isis-syria-warned-brother-a6831666.html. British intelligence classified him as a “person of interest” in 2009 when Emwazi—using the name Muhammad ibn Muazzam—was detained in Tanzania while allegedly attempting to travel to Somalia to join the terror group al-Shabab. A Tanzanian police officer later told the BBC that Emwazi was being “rough and noisy” in the airport, likely because of alcohol, and was thus denied entry to the country.Dominic Casciani, “Islamic State: Profile of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John,’” BBC News, November 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31641569. Tanzanian security deported Emwazi to Amsterdam where he was met by MI5 agents who interrogated and then returned him to the United Kingdom.Souad Mekhennet and Adam Goldman, “’Jihadi John’: Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi,” Washington Post, February 26, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/jihadi-john-the-islamic-state-killer-behind-the-mask-is-a-young-londoner/2015/02/25/d6dbab16-bc43-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html;
Margaret Coker and Jenny Gross, “Islamic State Militant Known as ‘Jihadi John’ Identified,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-militant-known-as-jihadi-john-identified-1424955642. Soon after, Emwazi moved to his native Kuwait to take a job with a computer company.Margaret Coker and Jenny Gross, “Islamic State Militant Known as ‘Jihadi John’ Identified,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-militant-known-as-jihadi-john-identified-1424955642. Emwazi returned to London in the summer of 2010, but British security detained him and prevented him from returning to Kuwait because of an expired visa.Margaret Coker and Jenny Gross, “Islamic State Militant Known as ‘Jihadi John’ Identified,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-militant-known-as-jihadi-john-identified-1424955642;
“‘Jihadi John’ movements mapped,” BBC News, February 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30292532.
Emwazi contacted the British NGO CAGE to try to determine a way out of the country, telling them he was desperate to leave. Emwazi changed his name to Mohammed al-Ayan and applied for teaching positions in Saudi Arabia, though his applications were rejected.Dominic Casciani, “Islamic State: Profile of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John,’” BBC News, November 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31641569. In August 2013, Emwazi reportedly crossed through six countries in order to reach ISIS in Syria. A jihadist source who allegedly accompanied Emwazi on the journey told British media that the pair left England on a boat, traveled to Belgium, and flew to Albania. From there they paid smugglers to take them to Greece, where they were detained but released after a few days. The pair then took a boat to Turkey, where ISIS handlers smuggled them into Syria.Chris Hughes, “Jihadi John dodged intelligence services in SIX countries after fleeing UK for Syria,” Mirror (London), April 28, 2016, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jihadi-john-dodged-intelligence-services-7854688. Emwazi was reportedly guarding hostages in Idlib, Syria, later that year.Dominic Casciani, “Islamic State: Profile of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John,’” BBC News, November 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31641569. By early 2014, Emwazi and The Beatles were believed to be guarding hostages in Raqqa, Syria, ISIS’s de facto capital.Souad Mekhennet and Adam Goldman, “’Jihadi John’: Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi,” Washington Post, February 26, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/jihadi-john-the-islamic-state-killer-behind-the-mask-is-a-young-londoner/2015/02/25/d6dbab16-bc43-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html.
A masked Emwazi—nicknamed Jihadi John by former captives—began appearing in ISIS execution videos in August 2014.Dominic Casciani, “Islamic State: Profile of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John,’” BBC News, November 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31641569. Hostages released by ISIS identified Jihadi John as one of four British jihadists known as The Beatles. Those former hostages described Jihadi John to the Washington Post as quiet, intelligent, and “the most deliberate” of the group.James Harkin, Ian Birrell, and Sharon Churcher, “British spies are on the verge of identifying ‘Jailer John’: Ambassador to U.S. reveals ‘we are not far away’ from unmasking fanatic who murdered James Foley as SAS gets ready to find him,” Daily Mail (London), August 23, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2732822/Vile-boast-Jihadi-John-I-ve-fortune-Bragging-British-executioners-sadists-say-ex-hostages-tortured-Tasers.html;
Souad Mekhennet and Adam Goldman, “’Jihadi John’: Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi,” Washington Post, February 26, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/jihadi-john-the-islamic-state-killer-behind-the-mask-is-a-young-londoner/2015/02/25/d6dbab16-bc43-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html. They also described The Beatles as among the more brutal of ISIS’s guards. Didier Francois—a French journalist held prisoner by The Beatles for 10 months—told CNN that The Beatles would regularly tell captives they were to be beheaded and stage fake executions.Mick Krever, “ISIS captors cared little about religion, says former hostage,” CNN, February 4, 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/03/intl_world/amanpour-didier-francois/index.html?sr=fb020315isisquran4pVODtopVideo. Escaped captives also reported waterboarding and other torture. Francois was held captive alongside American journalist James Foley, whom Emwazi executed in an August 2014 ISIS video.Adam Goldman and Souad Mekhennet, “‘That is not the son I raised’: How a British citizen became one of the most notorious members of ISIS,” Washington Post, May 23, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/that-is-not-the-son-i-raised-how-a-british-citizen-became-one-of-the-most-notorious-members-of-isis/2016/05/23/6d66276c-1cfd-11e6-b6e0-c53b7ef63b45_story.html?utm_term=.75e4dbc45560.
Emwazi repeatedly threatened Western leaders and citizens in ISIS propaganda videos. In a September 2014 video message to President Barack Obama, he promised that ISIS would “begin to slaughter your people in the streets.”(Graphic Video) Islamic State Claims Beheading of Former U.S. Army Ranger/Aid Worker Peter Kassig,” Leak Source, November 16, 2014, http://leaksource.info/2014/11/16/graphic-video-islamic-state-claims-beheading-of-former-u-s-army-rangeraid-worker-peter-kassig/. In a January 2015 message to the Japanese government, Emwazi promised an “entire army thirsty for your blood” that would “cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”“Graphic Video) Islamic State Beheads Japanese Journalist Kenji Goto,” Leak Source, January 31, 2015, http://leaksource.info/2015/01/31/graphic-video-islamic-state-beheads-japanese-journalist-kenji-goto/.
In February 2015, U.S. and British Intelligence officials revealed that Emwazi was the Beatle known as Jihadi John.“Has ‘Jihadi John’ fled ISIS?,” Fox News, July 26, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/07/26/has-jihadi-john-fled-isis/?intcmp=trending. According to a 2015 Independent interview with Emwazi’s younger brother, Omar, the elder Emwazi blamed British security services for ruining his chance at marriage and a normal life in Kuwait.Robert Verkaik, “Mohammed Emwazi: 'Jihadi John' warned younger brother not to follow him to Syria and Isis,” Independent (London), January 24, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/jihadi-john-mohammed-emwazi-isis-syria-warned-brother-a6831666.html.
In or around June 2015, Emwazi reportedly fled Syria for Libya out of fear that the U.S. and British governments would target him in Syria.Elaine O’Flynn, “Has Jihadi John fled to Libya? Experts fear killer left Syria when he was unmasked as Mohammed Emwazi, 26, from London,” Daily Mail (London), June 21, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3133221/Has-Jihadi-John-fled-Libya-Experts-fear-killer-left-Syria-unmasked-Mohammed-Emwazi-26-London.html;
“Has ‘Jihadi John’ fled ISIS?,” Fox News, July 26, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/07/26/has-jihadi-john-fled-isis/?intcmp=trending. Despite this, a U.S. airstrike reportedly killed Emwazi in Syria that November. Two months later, ISIS confirmed Jihadi John’s death and true identity in an obituary in its English-language magazine Dabiq.Dana Ford and Steve Almasy, “ISIS confirms death of ‘Jihadi John,’” CNN, January 20, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/19/middleeast/jihadi-john-dead/. Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in Syria in February 2017, while Davis was arrested in Turkey in November 2015.Tom Wyke, “Jihadi John ‘associate’ believed to be one of the British prison guards nicknamed ‘The Beatles’ is held in Turkey,” Daily Mail (London), November 13, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3317560/Turkish-authorities-detain-London-petty-drug-dealer-turned-Jihadi-John-associate-Aine-Davis.html; Mark Hosenball and Idrees Ali, “Syrian Kurds capture two British Islamic State militants: U.S. officials,” Reuters, February 8, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-britain/syrian-kurds-capture-two-british-islamic-state-militants-u-s-officials-idUSKBN1FS34Q. Kotey and Elsheikh were transferred to the United States for trial in October 2020.Rachel Weiner and Ellen Nakashima, “Two ISIS militants charged in deaths of James Foley and other American hostages in Syria,” Washington Post, October 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/isis-hostages-beheadings-miltants-charged/2020/10/07/69762ef2-089b-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html. In September 2021, Kotey pleaded guilty to eight charges related to the kidnapping and murder of hostages.Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman, “ISIS militant admits involvement in torture, killings of American hostages,” Washington Post, September 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/islamic-state-hostage-plea/2021/09/02/669d2b2c-0b56-11ec-9781-07796ffb56fe_story.html. On April 14, 2022, Elsheikh was convicted on eight charges, including four counts of hostage-taking resulting in death, murder conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.“El Shafee Elsheikh: IS 'Beatle' found guilty of hostage-taking and conspiring to murder journalists and aid workers,” Sky News, April 14, 2022, https://news.sky.com/story/el-shafee-elsheikh-is-beatle-found-guilty-of-hostage-taking-and-conspiring-to-murder-journalists-and-aid-workers-12589377. On April 29, 2022, Kotey was sentenced to life in prison.“Alexanda Kotey: IS ‘Beatle’ sentenced to life in US for murders in Syria,” BBC News, April 29, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61274332.
- Extremist entity
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Insurgent, territory-controlling, religious, terrorist, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Islamist, jihadist, pan-Islamist, Salafist, takfiri
- Foreign fighter, executioner
ISIS is a violent jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria. The group has declared wilayas (provinces) in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. ISIS has also waged attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Kuwait.