A US drone strike targeted a vehicle in Syria believed to be transporting the masked Islamic State jihadist known as “Jihadi John” on Thursday, according to American officials. Whether the strike killed the British man, who appeared in several videos depicting the beheadings of Western hostages, was not known, officials said.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the strike Thursday in Syria’s Raqqa targeted Mohammed Emwazi. Cook said whether or not Emwazi died in the strike wasn’t immediately clear.
“We are assessing the results of tonight’s operation and will provide additional information as and where appropriate,” he said in a statement.
American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Washington Post said the airstrike targeted a vehicle and may have killed another member of a group of English-speaking Islamic State fighters called “the Beatles.”
However, an unnamed senior US official told Fox News, “We are 99 percent sure we got him.”
Emwazi is in the videos showing the killings of journalists Steven Sotloff — who held Israeli citizenship — and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and a number of other hostages.
Sotloff’s mother, Shirley Sotloff, told NBC News following word of Thursday’s strike that she hadn’t been informed about it and that, even if Emwazi had been killed, “it doesn’t bring my son back.”
“Who knows if he’s gone,” NBC News quoted her as saying. “I don’t think there will ever be closure.”
The former London resident emigrated to the UK from his native Kuwait when he was 6, and first gained infamy after he beheaded Foley in August 2014.
The Islamic State later produced a series of videos featuring Emwazi beheading Sotloff and a number of other Westerners, while threatening world leaders from behind a black mask — in perfect English and with an unmistakable London accent.
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.
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.
While Emwazi has been a high-value target for Western security agencies, he has successfully evaded coalition airstrikes by constantly changing his location with his security detail, making it incredibly difficult to pinpoint him.
Prior to joining the extremist group, Emwazi was considered a model student at the University of Westminster, where he studied information systems and business management from 2006 to 2009. Records indicate that he was two modules short of obtaining his degree.