Quiet London child turned into ISIS executioner

Mohammed Emwazi became known as "Jihadi John", the masked Briton who sparked worldwide revulsion with his grisly on-camera executions of foreign aid workers and journalists in Syria.
Mohammed Emwazi became known as "Jihadi John", the masked Briton who sparked worldwide revulsion with his grisly on-camera executions of foreign aid workers and journalists in Syria.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • From a quiet, football-loving child to an ISIS executioner, the man who became one of the most haunting figures of the extremist movement remains a mystery even after being the high-profile target of a US air strike.

Described by British Prime Minister David Cameron as a threat to the world, Mohammed Emwazi became known as "Jihadi John", the Briton who sparked worldwide revulsion with his on-camera executions of foreign aid workers and journalists in Syria.

People who knew him were quoted by the British media as saying that they could not reconcile the quiet but intense young man they knew with the "cold, sadistic and merciless" killer described by one former hostage in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hub in Raqqa.

Emwazi, 27, was born in Kuwait but he moved with his family to London when he was six years old and he grew up in North Kensington, a middle-class area where a network of extremists has since been uncovered.

As a child, he was a fan of Manchester United football club and pop band S Club 7, according to a 1996 school year book published by The Sun tabloid.

He graduated with a degree in information technology from the University of Westminster.

The campaign group Cage, which published years of correspondence with Emwazi, blamed his radicalisation on a post-graduation trip to Tanzania in 2009. Emwazi told Cage he was accused by the British authorities of planning to join Al-Shebab fighters in Somalia.

On the advice of his mother and taxi-driver father, he flew to Kuwait to live with his fiancee's family and took up a job in IT, Cage said. When he returned in 2010 to see his parents, he had become "strange and unfriendly", a neighbour told The Daily Telegraph.

After changing his name to Mohammed al-Ayan and one final failed attempt to enter Kuwait in early 2013, he went missing, the Cage e-mail messages said.

Two British trainee medics who met Emwazi when he visited friends in a Syrian hospital described him as "quiet but a bit of an adrenaline junkie".

"I spotted this guy walking in, dressed in full combat kit, with a pistol on a holster, magazine, shopping bag in one hand and talking on a phone in the other," one of the medics told ITV News.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'Quiet London child turned into ISIS executioner'. Print Edition | Subscribe