26 February 2015, WP: 'Jihadi John': Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi
FEB. 26, 2015
'Jihadi John' From ISIS Execution Videos Was Under Watch by British Intelligence
By STEVEN ERLANGER
LONDON -- Mohammed Emwazi was 6 when his parents moved to West London from his birthplace in Kuwait, and he seems to have lived a normal life, studying hard and graduating in computer sciences from the University of Westminster in 2009.
But he came to the attention of the British intelligence services in May that same year, detained as he landed in Tanzania with two friends on what he described as a celebratory safari. British officials thought he and his friends were headed to Somalia, to fight with the Shabab terrorist group and allegedly tried to recruit him as an informant before shipping him back home.
Mr. Emwazi was identified on Thursday as the masked Islamic State fighter called "Jihadi John," and his journey from computer student to a murderous spokesman for the Islamic State is only beginning to come clear. How and when he was radicalized, and whether the British intelligence services were at fault -- either dealing with him too harshly or not identifying him as a serious threat soon enough -- are already the subjects of hot debate.
The question for security services is the same all over the West, whether in Britain, France or now in the United States, as some young Muslims are becoming radicalized or seeking to join a jihad. Given important constitutional and legal protections, how do counterterrorism and police officials draw the line when they find enough evidence to suspect someone, but do not have enough to prosecute them, or even to keep them under legal surveillance?
"Doing nothing is not practical or acceptable under today's conditions," said Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at Royal United Services Institute, a British research institution.
Mr. Emwazi was called Jihadi John by the foreign hostages he guarded, a number of whom he apparently beheaded in widely circulated videos. He was first identified on Thursday by the Washington Post website,  and his name was confirmed by a senior British security official. The official said that the British government had identified Mr. Emwazi some time ago but had not disclosed his name for operational reasons. The identification was also confirmed in Washington by a senior United States military intelligence official.
Information about Mr. Emwazi is still vague, with Britain officially refusing to confirm that he is indeed "Jihadi John" because of what are described as continuing operations.
But Mr. Emwazi appears in 2011 court documents, obtained by the BBC,  as a member of a network of extremists who funneled funds, equipment and recruits "from the United Kingdom to Somalia to undertake terrorism-related activity."
Mr. Emwazi is alleged to be part of a group from West and North London, sometimes known as the North London Boys, with links to the Shabab terrorist group from Somalia, organized by an individual who had returned to London in February 2007 and whose name was redacted in court documents.
Another person associated with that group was Bilal al-Berjawi, who was born in Lebanon but brought to West London as a baby. He fought in Somalia and rose through the ranks of the Shabab and Al Qaeda in Africa before being killed in a drone strike in January 2012, according to Raffaello Pantucci, also a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
Mr. Berjawi traveled to Kenya in February 2009, telling his family he was heading for a safari; he and a friend were detained in Nairobi and shipped back to London, but made it to Somalia in October that year.
The neighborhood group "is a tight community and it's very probable that they knew each other and were part of the same crew," Mr. Pantucci said.
So it is likely that Mr. Emwazi's own safari a few months later in May, from Britain to Germany to Tanzania, when he used the name Muhammad ibn Muazzam, set off alarms with the British security services, and that he had started on the road to radicalism even before his encounter with MI5 in 2009.
Asim Qureshi, research director at CAGE, a British advocacy organization opposed to what it calls the "war on terror," met with Mr. Emwazi in the fall of 2009. Mr. Emwazi was very angry over his treatment at the hands of British security services, Mr. Qureshi said, and the two stayed in contact for two years.
Mr. Qureshi said he was not 100 percent sure that Mr. Emwazi, whom he described as "extremely kind, extremely humble and extremely soft-spoken," was the masked Islamic State terrorist.
But he nonetheless blamed Mr. Emwazi's treatment for his radicalization, describing harassment by police officers at airports, pressure on Kuwait to cancel a visa and on one occasion, Mr. Emwazi's being "roughed up" and "strangled by a police officer" before being sent home.
"This is not somebody who ever said, 'I hate the system, I reject the system,' " Mr. Qureshi said. "It's someone who said, 'I don't like the environment but I'll work within the system to effect change.' "
As ever, there are conflicting interpretations, with some seeing a young Muslim man treated badly, put into a headlock, barred from traveling and induced to betray his friends, and those who say that such treatment is not any excuse, or reason, for repeatedly cutting off the heads of civilians taken hostage.
Further, there are others who are wondering how security services can identify potential terrorists like Mr. Emwazi, but then fail to recognize what risk they pose.
The CAGE group, which embraces its notoriety, emphasized similar circumstances in the case of Michael Adebolajo,  who hacked to death a British soldier, Lee Rigby, outside a London barracks in May 2013.
Mr. Adebolajo claimed that he had been detained in Kenya and tortured by British officials who suspected that he was traveling to Somalia to join the Shabab, and that MI5 also tried to turn him into an informer.
Mr. Emwazi, returning from Tanzania, was detained again at an airport in the Netherlands and questioned by Dutch and British security officials.
Mr. Emwazi later moved to Kuwait, his birthplace, working for a computer company, and he returned to London at least twice, Mr. Qureshi said. British counterterrorism officials detained Mr. Emwazi in June 2010, fingerprinting him and searching his belongings. In July of that year, Mr. Qureshi said, Mr. Emwazi was not allowed to return to Kuwait, which had apparently refused to renew his visa, and Mr. Emwazi blamed the British government.
"I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started," he wrote in a 2010 email to Mr. Qureshi. "But now I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London."
In his statement, Mr. Qureshi said of Mr. Emwazi, "He desperately wanted to use the system to change his situation, but the system ultimately rejected him."
Mr. Qureshi said he last heard from Mr. Emwazi in January 2012. By 2013, he was in Idlib, Syria, helping to guard Western hostages. In August 2014, he presided over the first of the beheading videos of those hostages.
Even if Mr. Emwazi's version of events, as passed on by Mr. Qureshi, is true, Mr. Pantucci asked, "Is it justifiable to go and behead journalists and aid workers because you have cops causing you trouble?"
Mr. Joshi said there were doubts about CAGE's "crude and simplistic" narrative of radicalization because of police mistreatment, saying that there was evidence of Mr. Emwazi's involvement with Somalia before he was ever detained, and long before the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State.
J. M. Berger, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and co-author of a new book on the history of ISIS, also said the narrative of police harassment, while it may have contributed to his radicalization, did not explain it.
"Malcolm X and Martin Luther King got a lot more pressure from police, and neither decided that decapitating people is the right response," he said.
There were similar law enforcement issues in the case of three young men in Brooklyn  who became fascinated with the Islamic State. There are benefits to waiting and watching rather than rushing to disrupt a plot the moment it is detected, said Diego G. Rodriguez, chief of the F.B.I.'s New York division.
"We're always trying to identify these folks, their hierarchy, their network," he said.
Andrew M. Liepman, a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center who is now a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said: "There are no rules as to how long cases should cook, no recipe. Lots of factors must be weighed."
Suspects in Western countries must break the law or have provided sufficient evidence to be taken into custody, Mr. Liepman said, adding, "Both we and the British have struggled with this."
Reporting was contributed by Katrin Bennhold and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura from London; Eric Schmitt from Ndjamena, Chad; and Al Baker and Rukmini Callimachi from New York.