27 Feb 2015

What do we still not know about Mohammed Emwazi?

The identity of masked Islamic State militant “Jihadi John” was revealed on Thursday. But what we have since learnt about Mohammed Emwazi throws up as many questions as answers.

Above: Mohammed Emwazi pictured in school. The Sun/News Syndication

In a day of revelations, reports yesterday claimed to unmask west Londoner Emwazi as the Islamic State frontman seen posing in several barbaric videos of hostages being murdered. As details of the apparent killer’s identity emerged, questions were raised about how a British student of computer science became one of the world’s most wanted men.

Why has his name come out now?

According to the Washington Post, Emwazi was identified by friends and others familiar with his case. British radicalisation experts say they believe the identity to be “accurate and correct”. However, the authorities have yet to confirm his identity.

Read more: Mohammed Emwazi from S Club 7 to IS in pictures

Why his name has been revealed now is not clear. The FBI went on record last September to confirm it knew who “Jihadi John” was but would not name him for security reasons. Senior sources have since told Channel 4 News that as the US do not have any reported hostages left in Syria, there may have been less operational incentive to keep the name withheld.

What is Cage and why is it involved?

Cage is a London-based advocacy organisation with an Islamic focus. Its director, Asim Qureshi was quoted in the Washington Post article as being in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria. A statement from Cage on Thursday played down Mr Qureshi’s role in identifying the militant. However, Cage has confirmed that Emwazi was in contact with the group for a period of two years over alleged “interference” by the UK security agencies.

When was Emwazi radicalised?

The Washington Post article claimed Emwazi started to radicalise after a planned safari in Tanzania following his graduation from the University of Westminster. Emwazi reportedly told friends he was detained and flown to Amsterdam. There, an officer from MI5 allegedly accused him of trying to reach Somalia, where the militant group Al-Shabaab operates.

Read more: how west London became an extremism hotbed

Cage claimed Emwazi became radicalised after being harassed by MI5. However, some critics say he had been radicalised during his time at university. In 2007, while Emwazi was at university, a former student called Yassin Nassari, who was convicted in 2007 of bringing missile plans into Britain. His past position as president of the university’s Islamic Society, which Emwazi had attended, brought attention to the problem of extremism on campus.

What happened next?

The next few years in Emwazi’s life are sketchy. Emwazi reportedly left the UK to stay in Kuwait with his father’s family in 2009. After eight months working in Kuwait, he is said to have returned to the UK for an eight-day visit. Cage claims he was stopped in Heathrow but was allowed to continue. He is said to have returned to Kuwait eight days later in early June 2010.

After spending a couple more months in Kuwait and making plans to marry, Cage says Emwazi planned to return to the UK home and was allegedly stopped and questioned in Heathrow airport. The following day he is said to have attempted to return to Kuwait but was apparently told he could travel no further than Dubai as his visa had been refused.

When did he travel to Syria?

In 2012 Emwazi is said to have passed a SELTA teaching English language course. He reportedly applied to English language centres in Saudi Arabia and was rejected. In 2013 he is said to have changed his name to Mohammed al-Ayan before attempting to travel to Kuwait one last time. After that, his whereabouts are vague.

Read more: why was 'Jihadi John' unmasked?

In 2013, Emwazi allegedly left his parents’ home to travel abroad. After a further three days, his parents reported him as a missing person. Four months later, police arrived at the family home to explain they have information he had entered Syria.

How much did MI5 know?

Security services are facing questions over claims that British graduate Emwazi was known to MI5 before leaving for Syria. Cage claims the British government could have been behind his rejection in Tanzania before he was put on a plane to Amsterdam where he met “Nick, from MI5”.

Read more: security services and the road to radicalisation

Emwazi was asked to introduce himself and was asked for the reason for his trip to Tanzania, Cage said. He gave detailed answers, but the group claims that “Nick” said he thought he was lying and that his real intention was to travel to Somalia. Upon returning to the UK, Emwazi was reportedly on the radar of MI5, who warned him that he was on a terror watch list. The Home Office would not confirm or deny Cage’s claims.

What does the government say?

Scotland Yard have so far refused to confirm reports of Emwazi’s identity. Commander Richard Walton, head of the Met’s counter-terrorism command, said: “We have previously asked media outlets not to speculate about the details of our investigation on the basis that life is at risk.

“We are not going to confirm the identity of anyone at this stage or give an update on the progress of this live counter-terrorism investigation.”

Downing Street also declined to confirm or deny that the reported name was known to the intelligence and security services.