'Jihadi John': Softly spoken student who became a symbol of murderous brutality

In his old haunts, the quest for clues to a polite young man’s descent into fanaticism yields as many questions as answers

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The Independent Online

Mohammed Emwazi was yesterday portrayed as a softly spoken man who bought campaigners “posh baklava” as a thank-you for working on efforts to help him return to his native Kuwait.

But as “Jihadi John” a different picture emerges: Emwazi’s alter ego is the frontman for a series of highly public hostage killings.

The answer to how he moved from a student studying computers at the University of Westminster to become one of the world’s most sought-after fugitives remained elusive last night despite the selected release of emails that detailed his confrontations with authorities after being suspected of having links to terrorism. There were questions for his former university, which has been dogged by claims that it failed to confront campus extremism. Last night, the university postponed a talk by the controversial and anti-gay preacher Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad.

Neighbours said that Emwazi came from a normal family which was last night said to be in “utter, utter shock” at the news that their son played an apparently key role in murders that have been used as a global propaganda tool for Isis.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London, which has been monitoring British extremists travelling to Syria, said it believed the identification of Emwazi to be “accurate and correct”.

Emwazi, fluent in English and Arabic, was said to be well-mannered, to dress in designer clothes and be an observant Muslim. On arriving in the UK, his family settled in north Kensington, an area which has produced a remarkable number of jihadis. He attended the Quintin Kynaston community academy in St John’s Wood and was reported to be a contemporary of the singer-songwriter Tulisa Contostavlos.

He appears to have first come to the attention of the security services upon travelling with two friends to Tanzania via Germany for what he claimed was a safari, after graduating from university in 2009. He said that he and his friends were detained and threatened with beatings by security officers after their arrival in the country, according to an account that he gave of the episode to The Independent.

Emwazi, going by the name of Muhammad ibn Muazzam, was returned to Britain via Amsterdam where he claimed he was interviewed by Dutch and British security officials, who sought to recruit him, according to a separate account based on an interview and emails given to the campaign group Cage.

They claimed that on their return to the UK, they were warned by MI5 officers that they were on a terror watch list, according to the 2010 report for this newspaper. He told Cage that he was asked about his opinion of Jews, the 11 September 2001 attack on the United States, and the attacks on the London transport network in 2005.


The detentions came as security officers were monitoring the movement of Britons to Somalia to join militants of al-Shabaab for training. Court papers said Emwazi was part of a network of British and East African extremists involved in helping people to travel to Somalia.

He was said to have links with Ibrahim Magag, a Somali-born extremist, who became the first person to abscond while the subject of a government monitoring order.

Emwazi claimed that he moved to Kuwait to work because of continuing close scrutiny by the security agencies, that, he said, led to the break-up of his engagement with his Kuwaiti-based fiancée.

He became engaged for a second time while working in Kuwait, according to his account given to Cage. He says that when he returned to Britain to visit his family, he was stopped from travelling back.

The 27-year-old is believed to have left Britain in 2012 (AP)

The group – which represents people who claim to have been subject to security service abuses – said that his “descent into alienation” came as he tried unsuccessfully to return to Kuwait.

Cage claimed that it last had contact with him in January 2012. It said that he changed his name in a final failed attempt to travel to Kuwait. His family was told by police that he had travelled to Syria in 2013, the group said.

In a series of emails released by Cage, Emwazi wrote: “I don’t want to stay in the UK because I have found a job in Kuwait, found a spouse in Kuwait and thus found a new start for my life in Kuwait. Kuwait is where I’m from, I was born their [sic]. I just want to go their [sic] and start my new life again!!” In the end, as events transpired, he would be headed for an altogether different destination.