#British Prime Minister Cameron: not certain officially the fate of masked #ISIS militant Mohammed Emwazi ‘Jihadi John’
Washington ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO)- A U.S. drone strike targeted a vehicle in Syria believed to be transporting the masked Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John” according to American officials. Whether the strike killed the British man who appears in several videos depicting the beheadings of Western hostages was not known, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday.
Mohammed Emwazi was the target of an airstrike in Raqqa, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. Officials were assessing the results of the strike, he said.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that a drone had targeted a vehicle in which Emwazi was believed to be traveling. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
Cameron said officials are not yet certain whether a U.S. drone strike killed Emwazi. He said the strike had been a joint effort and that British intelligence agencies were working around the clock to find the British-accented militant, whom Cameron called the militant group”s “lead executioner.”
Cameron also said the U.S. strike had been “an act of self-defense” and the right thing to do. He said targeting Emwazi was “a strike at the heart” of the Islamic State group.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing at a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia on Friday said, “We are still assessing the results of this strike.” He told reporters extremists “need to know this: your days are numbered and you will be defeated.”
Peter Neumann, professor of security studies at King’s College London, said U.S. and British authorities appeared fairly confident Emwazi was dead. He said officials would be wary of announcing he’d been targeted only for him to appear “on video in a day’s time sticking his finger up at Obama and saying ‘I’m still alive.’ ”
He said that Emwazi was not a senior military commander of ISIS but was “very important to the organization symbolically.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that U.S. coalition warplanes struck an IS vehicle as it left the governor’s office in the city of Raqqa, killing four IS foreign fighters, including a British commander. The Observatory said the bodies were charred, and Observatory chief Rami Abdurrahman said the commander killed in the attack was most likely Jihadi John but that he does not have 100 percent confirmation.
Emwazi, believed to be in his mid-20s, has been described by a former hostage as a bloodthirsty psychopath who enjoyed threatening Western hostages. Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa, who had been held in Syria for more than six months after his abduction in September 2013, said Emwazi would explain precisely how the militants would carry out a beheading.
Those being held by three British-sounding captors nicknamed them “the Beatles” with “Jihadi John” a reference to Beatles member John Lennon, Espinosa said in recalling his months as one of more than 20 hostages.
Cameron said Britain has been “working, with the United States, literally around the clock to track him down.”
“This was a combined effort,” he said. “And the contribution of both our countries was essential.”
Cameron said that “it will demonstrate to those who would do Britain, our people and our allies harm: We have a long rech, we have unwavering determination and we never forget about our citizens.”
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem Friday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “If these reports are correct and several of those people from ISIS were killed today, I mean these people who were brutalizing, terrorizing, murdering people. Off course it is really important that we take the fight to them and make them realize that they are going to be contested heavily.”
“It’s no great secret I think it is essential for Britain to play its part in the fight against this hideous extremism that is brutalizing the lives of so many people,” Blair said. “It is important we play our full part alongside America and other allies and so if the UK government wanted to commit Britain to this fight in Syria, where after all ISIS are really headquartered, of course I will be fully supportive of that.”
Among those beheaded by Islamic State militants in videos posted online since August 2014 were U.S. journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.
A friend of Henning has said she is still “skeptical” following news that “Jihadi John” may have been killed.
Louise Woodward-Styles, who organized a candlelit vigil for the taxi driver after he was captured by the terrorists, said that, even if Emwazi had been killed, the family of the 47-year-old would not get closure following his brutal murder.
She said: “I don’t think there will be closure, particularly for Alan’s family and close friends.
“His body wasn’t returned home and from that aspect it was something they had to deal with privately. For them to say that Jihadi John has been killed doesn’t mean anything. It is something that the Government can say they have done successfully.”
She added that she would have preferred Emwazi to have been brought back to the UK to face justice.
In the videos, a tall masked figure clad in black and speaking in a British accent typically began one of the gruesome videos with a political rant and a kneeling hostage before him, then ended it holding an oversize knife in his hand with the headless victim lying before him in the sand.
Emwazi was identified as “Jihadi John” last February, although a lawyer who once represented Emwazi’s father told reporters that there was no evidence supporting the accusation. Experts and others later confirmed the identification.
Emwazi was born in Kuwait and spent part of his childhood in the poor Taima area of Jahra before moving to Britain while still a boy, according to news reports quoting Syrian activists who knew the family. He attended state schools in London, then studied computer science at the University of Westminster before leaving for Syria in 2013. The woman who had been the principal at London’s Quintin Kynaston Academy told the BBC earlier this year that Emwazi had been quiet and “reasonably hard-working.”
Officials said Britain’s intelligence community had Emwazi on its list of potential terror suspects for years but was unable to prevent him from traveling to Syria. He had been known to the nation’s intelligence services since at least 2009, when he was connected with investigations into terrorism in Somalia.
The beheading of Foley, 40, of Rochester, New Hampshire, was deemed by IS to be its response to U.S. airstrikes. The release of the video, on Aug. 19, 2014, horrified and outraged the civilized world but was followed the next month by videos showing the beheadings of Sotloff and Haines and, in October, of Henning.
Extremist `Jihadi John’ Targeted in U.S. Airstrike in Syria
The Islamic State extremist known as “Jihadi John” was targeted by a U.S.-led airstrike in Syria, potentially killing a symbolic figure in the group’s reign of terror and compounding its battlefield losses.
The man, a British citizen called Mohamed Emwazi, was the focus of a U.S. drone strike on a vehicle near Raqqah.
If confirmed, it would be a coup for the western allies in the fight against Islamic militants and particularly home-grown extremism. While the operation is likely to yield more political capital in London and Washington than change any dynamic on the ground, it comes after Islamic State suffered setbacks in Syria and in Iraq this week, even as it claimed its first attack against Hezbollah with suicide bombs in Beirut.
“He didn’t have key operational or battlefield responsibility and wasn’t crucial to the big battles being fought over strategic locations,” said Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “But it’s important to recognize that symbolism can be very important.”
Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh in Arabic, established its extremist religious stronghold in the first half of 2014 after taking Raqqah and Sunni-dominated towns and cities in Iraq including Mosul.
Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad backed by Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Russian airstrikes broke a two-year siege on the Kweiris military base in Aleppo province imposed by Islamic State militants. Kurdish Peshmerga forces entered the center of the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar on Friday, driving out militants who had been holding it for about a year.
“Today is a very bad day all round for IS’s momentum narrative,” Charlie Winter, senior Researcher at the Quilliam Foundation in London, said via Twitter. “Emwazi’s death would be a big blow to IS morale, but would most likely have little bearing on IS operations. Whatever the case, the Emwazi strike points to very sophisticated U.S. intelligence means, which will worry anyone who’s anyone in IS.”
One concern is that, Emwazi’s death would turn him into a martyr, an “incredible rallying cry” for Islamic State, Lewis Herrington, a research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Warwick University , told Sky Television.
The strike was carried out Thursday, the Pentagon said. There’s a “high degree of certainty” he was hit in the attack near Raqqah, the group’s de-facto capital, the BBC reported, citing an unnamed senior military source.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group that monitors the country’s civil war through a network of activists, said on Friday that four westerners were killed in an attack on at least one Islamic State vehicle near the governorate building in Raqqah. They included a Briton. It said the strikes shook the city.
“We are assessing the results of tonight’s operation and will provide additional information as and where appropriate,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday night.
British and U.S. forces worked together to track down and kill the “barbaric murderer,” according to Cameron. It follows a U.K. drone strike in Syria in September to kill an Islamic State fighter of British nationality who was planning attacks on the U.K.
Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff, Wales, was killed on Aug. 21 by a Royal Air Force drone while traveling near Raqqah, while Ruhul Amin, from Aberdeen, Scotland, died in the same attack, also carried out in “self defense,” Cameron said at the time. Another Briton, Junaid Hussain, was killed in an attack by U.S. forces three days later.
It was Emwazi, though, who became the lightning rod for condemnation of Islamic State’s brutality and news of the latest strike against a British jihadist dominated radio and television on Friday morning.
“Symbolism matters, but ISIS will be defeated not by removing individuals like Emwazi but by taking back territory and dismantling the narrative of the all-conquering caliphate,” said Joshi, the RUSI analyst. “This is a little pin prick in that overall effort.”