Jihadi John 'dead': Drone strike targeting Mohammed Emwazi deals an ideological blow to Isis, experts say

Analysts say his death would not change the group's operational capacity but sends a 'strong message' about the UK and US' ability to track and kill Isis militants

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 13 November 2015 15:55
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The strike in the heart of Isis' Syrian stronghold of Raqqa sent a 'strong message'
The strike in the heart of Isis' Syrian stronghold of Raqqa sent a 'strong message'

Terrorism experts have said the possible death of the British militant known as Jihadi John has dealt an ideological, rather than operational, blow to Isis.

David Cameron championed the attack as a “strike at the heart” the terrorist group earlier today, saying Britain and the US had demonstrated their “long reach”.

Mohammed Emwazi was targeted by a US drone strike in the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa on Thursday night but the military has not officially confirmed his death.

But senior officials speaking off the record claimed victory over the “clean hit”, which they said “evaporated” the jihadist.

Cameron on Jihadi John

Emwazi rose to prominence after appearing in a series of gory execution videos showing the murder of hostages last year, ranting at the camera and threatening Western governments before beheading them in the desert.

Charlie Winter, a security analyst specialising in Isis, said the former IT student’s role within Isis has remained unclear since his most recent appearance on 31 January.

“I think it’s important not to get too excited (about his reported death),” he told The Independent. “Operationally, it won’t affect the group much at all.”

But ideologically, the death of such a well-known and prominent figure could do damage.

Mohammed Emwazi appeared in a series of gory propaganda videos last year

“As a figurehead he was very, very important,” Mr Winter continued.

“He was well-liked among jihadists – they looked up to him, he was an aspirational figure. If he has indeed been killed, it’s a serious blow for their propaganda.”

The analyst likened Emwazi to a TV star who is popular but not needed for a show, or Isis’ gory propaganda videos, to continue pulling in audiences.

Shiraz Maher, from King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, agreed.

Asked about the implications of Emwazi’s possible death on Twitter, he answered: “None beyond the symbolism.”

The burnt-out car he was believed to be in when it was hit by a drone strike on Thursday night was still reportedly sitting in the road on Friday afternoon.

Activists with Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said Emwazi had recently left a building near Isis’ “Islamic Court” and was travelling near a roundabout used for public executions.

A Facebook post said the first explosion hit at 11.41pm local time (9.41pm GMT) and that around a dozen more air strikes were counted before midnight.

A senior US military source told the BBC Emwazi had been “tracked carefully over a period of time” and that there is a “high degree of certainty” that the mission was a success.

Mr Winter said the fact Emwazi was apparently traced with such precision sends a “very strong message” to his fellow militants.

“Anyone who’s anyone in Isis will now be very concerned,” he said. “I think it’s a very important tactical victory but it’s not anywhere near a strategic one.

“When you look at the fact they are losing territory in Sinjar and is under attack in Ramadi it looks like an awful day for Isis.”

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