The masked man who beheaded several hostages held by the Islamic State group has been named as Mohammed Emwazi, a 26-year-old west Londoner who was known to the UK security services.
According to The Washington Post, Mohammed Emwazi grew up in a well-to-do family in west London. He is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined the militant group.
Channel 4 News has spoken people who knew him at his school and another who says they were with him in the first weeks he was in Syria.
Contemporaries of his at the Quintin Kynaston Academy in west London describe as quiet, intelligent and hard-working. They say he cared for his younger siblings – and was religious though not unduly so.
One of Emwazi’s former teachers spoke anonymously to Channel 4 News.
She remembered a “diligent, hardworking, lovely young man” who was responsible, polite and quiet.
Expressing her shock at the path his life had taken, she recalled: “he was somebody who would always seek the correct way of handling something and when there were any issues, he would come and speak to teachers like me and ask to help him sort things out, he did things in the right way.
“There was never any indication of any kind of violence at all.”
He graduated with a degree in computer programming from the University of Westminster. A contemporary said he was often seen in the prayer room between classes.
Channel 4 News has also spoken to a source who says he met and spent time with him in Syria. The source says he was one of a group from London including Ibrahim al-Mazwagi, the first British jihadi known to have died in Syria.
Emwazi initially joined the Migrants Brigade or Mujahideen in 2012. That year he was based in Idlib Province and then outside Aleppo. He then went on to join Al-Nusra and finally ISIS.
The source described him as personable, humorous on occasion but also determined that the fighters were portrayed by the media as people to be afraid of.
The source said he was a keen video games player, and a martial arts practitioner.
The source also recounted an occasion when as one of the best Arabic speakers in the foreign brigade he led the interrogation of a man who was questioned and then badly beaten.
‘Jihadi John’ has appeared in a series of videos in which hostages, including British aid worker Alan Henning, were brutally murdered.
“I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John,” said one of his close friends who identified him in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was like a brother to me… I am sure it is him.”
Asim Qureshi, research director at the rights group, Cage, said after watching one of the videos: “There was an extremely strong resemblance. This is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person.”
He later clarified that, due to the hood worn in all the videos, there was no way he could be 100 per cent certain.
Scotland Yard has refused to confirm the reports.
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.”
Emwazi is understood to have arrived in Britain as a young boy, aged six, after being born in Kuwait. Growing up in west London, he was described as a “polite, mild-mannered” man with a penchant for wearing stylish clothes.
It was during a trip to Tanzania in August 2009 that Emwazi’s life direction is thought to have started to change. Once landing in Dar es Salaam on the supposed Safari trip with two friends, he alleged he was detained by gun-wielding Tanzanian police and held overnight.
The trio were eventually refused entry to Tanzania and deported to the Netherlands, where they said they were questioned by MI5 agents who accused them of having links to Islamic extremists.
An article in The Independent in May 2010 outlines the allegations. Upon returning to the UK, Emwazi was reportedly on the radar of MI5, who warned him that he was on a terror watch list which prevented him travelling to any Muslim country.
He is later understood to have filed a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission over his treatment.
Emwazi later moved to Kuwait, where he got a job at a computer company. But on a visit to London in June 2010, it is understood he was detained once again by counter-terrorism officials and prevented from flying back.
Two years later he was apparently in Syria fighting alongside IS.
His first public appearance was last August in a video of the murder of American journalist James Foley last August, dressed in black with only his eyes visible.
British and US security services have previously inferred that they knew his identity, but Thursday morning’s developments and naming appear to have taken authorities by surprise.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office has said: “There is an ongoing police investigation into the murder of hostages by so-called ISIL in Syria. We are not going to give a running commentary on any element of a live operational security investigation.”
The University of Westminster has also released a statement in which a spokesman has said: “A Mohammed Emwazi left the university six years ago. If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. We have students from 150 countries and their safety is of paramount concern. With other universities in London, we are working to implement the Government’s Prevent strategy to tackle extremism.”
The university later tweeted that it was postponing a student union event called ‘who is Muhammad?’