The Islamic State fighter known as “Jihadi John,” who has been seen in videos showing the beheadings of Western hostages, has been identified by analysts as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born British man in his mid-20s from West London.
According to The Washington Post and the BBC, Emwazi was known to UK security services before traveling to Syria in 2012, but his name was withheld from the public for operational reasons.
Emwazi studied computer programming at the University of Westminster, the news outlets reported. The university confirmed that a student of that name graduated in 2009.
“If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news,” the university said in a statement.
Aside from taking part in brutal killings of Westerners, Emwazi reportedly conducted negotiations with European governments to to free hostages taken by the jihadist group in 2012-13.
Officials who spoke with him on the phone told The Guardian that he sounded identical to the man in the IS videos.
The paper reported that Emwazi was critical to the Islamic State’s IT security and had been involved, for example, in masking the origin of communications between Raqqa and Western governments to make them appear as though they originated in Tel Aviv.
Last August, Emwazi, sporting a black robe and speaking with a thick British accent, was featured in an Islamic State video in which he apparently killed American journalist James Foley.
He was later believed to have been seen in the videos of the beheadings of US journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter.
London-based CAGE, which works with Muslims in conflict with British intelligence services, said Thursday its research director, Asim Qureshi, saw strong similarities, but because the hood worn by the militant, “there was no way he could be 100 percent certain.”
The Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College London, which closely tracks fighters in Syria, also said it believed the identification was correct.
CAGE said that in 2010 Emwazi complained that British intelligence services were preventing him from traveling to the country of his birth, Kuwait, where he planned to marry.
No one answered the door at the brick row house in west London where the Emwazi family is alleged to have lived. Neighbors in the surrounding area of public housing projects either declined comment or said they did not know the family.
Emwazi was a “person of interest” to the British MI5 intelligence agency at least since 2011, as he had been discussed in semi-secret court cases relating to extremism overseas and in the UK, the BBC reported. He had been previously described as a member of a network involving at least 13 other British extremists.
Earlier last year, the Sunday Times reported (paywall) that a London-based rapper, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 23, and not Emwazi, was suspected of being Jihadi John.
In November, the British government said it was looking into newspaper reports that the fighter had been injured in a US-led airstrike.