It looks like Jihadi John won’t be around anymore to point his knife at the perceived enemies of radical Islam, deliver sneering taunts from behind a black hood or chop off the heads of Islamic State hostages.
American and British officials expressed confidence Friday that a U.S. drone strike firing a Hellfire missile had killed Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-born British defector who became known worldwide as “Jihadi John” last year for beheading Western captives in macabre video executions distributed online.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State campaign called Operation Inherent Resolve, expressed “great confidence” that Emwazi died in an overnight strike when a bomb obliterated the car transporting him and his driver in Raqqa, the northern Syrian city near the Turkish border that has served as headquarters for the jihadist organization.
Calling Emwazi “a primary recruitment tool” for the group, Warren said: “We’re all familiar with the ghastly videos, the absolute barbarism that he displayed, crimes against American citizens. I mean, this guy was a human animal, and killing him is probably making the world a little bit better place.”
Emwazi, who was raised in London from age 6 until he defected to the Islamic State several years ago, was believed to be in his mid-20s when he died.
Jihadi John first came to the world’s attention in August 2014 with the release of a video showing him in a black hood standing behind the kneeling orange-clad American journalist James Foley, who’d been captured in 2012.
After delivering a political diatribe against Western governments, Emwazi appeared to behead Foley with a knife.
He was intent on murdering many, many people. So this was an act of self-defense.
British Prime Minister David Cameron
Later videos captured a man of the same height and speaking in a similar British accent severing the heads of U.S. reporter Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Hemming, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
“Frankly, if he died in an instant and was incinerated, it was a better death than he deserved,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC.
Schiff said that although Jihadi John’s death would not likely have major tactical or strategic significance in the war against the Islamic State, it would carry great symbolic weight.
“It sends a message – you take the lives of Americans, we are going to come after you,” Schiff said. “We will be patient, we will be methodical, but we will kill you.”
Warren, however, said that Emwazi was merely the most recent in a long string of Islamic State combatants taken out by the U.S.-led air campaign this year.
“We’ve killed, on average, one mid- to upper-level ISIL leader every two days since May,” Warren said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “So for us, this is very routine.”
Warren said that while Jihadi John’s death still needed to be confirmed for absolute certainty, intelligence gave U.S. military leaders “great confidence” that the target of the drone strike was Emwazi.
5 The number of American and British hostages Islamic State executioner Mohammed Emwazi is believed to have beheaded in videotaped murders distributed online.
“When the opportunity presented itself, with the opportunity for minimal civilian casualties, we took the shot,” Warren said.
Asked whether there were any civilian deaths, Warren responded that there was none.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government had been working with the United States “literally around the clock” to track down Emwazi in what he described as a “combined effort.”
Calling Emwazi “ISIL’s lead executioner,” Cameron said he had “killed many, many Muslims in addition to the Western journalists and aid workers he’d slaughtered by slicing their heads off in killings captured in gruesome videos and broadcast worldwide by the Islamic State.”
“And he was intent on murdering many, many more people,” Cameron said in a statement. “So this was an act of self-defense. It was the right thing to do.”
Cameron thanked the United States for having carried out the drone strike, saying that “the United Kingdom has no better friend or ally.”
James Rosen: 202-383-0014; @jamesmartinrose