WASHINGTON, Nov 14, (Agencies): The US military said Friday it was “reasonably certain” that the Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John” was killed in a drone strike in Syria, but relatives of the British militant’s victims said his death brought them little comfort. Mohammed Emwazi, whose masked figure appeared in a string of graphic videos showing the beheading of Western hostages, was targeted in a combined British-US operation Thursday in Raqa, the de facto IS capital in war-torn Syria.
In a briefing webcast from Baghdad to Pentagon reporters, Colonel Steve Warren said it would take time for formal confirmation that the Hellfire missile drone strike killed the notorious 27-year-old militant.
But Warren said that the United States had “great confidence that this individual was Jihadi John.” Emwazi was being driven in a car, and he and a driver are the men believed to have been killed, he said. “We know for a fact that the weapons system hit its intended target,” Warren said. “We are reasonably certain that we killed the target that we intended to kill, which is ‘Jihadi John’.” Intelligence sources had been tracking Emwazi “for some time,” Warren said. “This guy was a human animal, and killing him probably makes the world a little bit better place,” he added. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier that, if confirmed, Emwazi’s death would be “a strike at the heart” of the IS group.
A US official said three MQ-9 Reapers were involved in the operation. One of them was a British observation drone, but the US drones fired the missiles, the official said. A London computer programmer, Emwazi was born in Kuwait to a stateless family of Iraqi origin. His parents moved to Britain in 1993 after their hopes of obtaining Kuwaiti citizenship were quashed. Dubbed “Jihadi John” after hostages nicknamed a group of IS guards The Beatles, he first appeared in a video in August 2014 showing the beheading of James Foley, a 40-year-old American freelance journalist captured in Syria in 2012.
Foley is seen kneeling on the ground, dressed in an orange outfit resembling those worn by prisoners held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Emwazi is dressed entirely in black. The Pentagon said in a statement that Emwazi participated in videos showing the murders of Foley and fellow US journalist Steven Sotloff, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and a number of other hostages. Emwazi was last seen in the video showing Goto’s execution in January. The drone strike targeting him coincided with the launch of a major US-backed offensive in the north of Iraq, where Kurdish officials said Friday that IS militants had been beaten back from the town of Sinjar.