Reports: IS Killer in Beheading Videos Unmasked

FILE - A masked, black-clad militant, identified by The Washington Post newspaper as a Briton named Mohammed Emwazi, stands next to a man purported to be Steven Sotloff in this still image from a video obtained from SITE Intel Group website, Feb. 26, 2015

Media reports said the masked Islamic State militant who appeared in several videos of hostage beheadings has been tentatively identified -- but security sources caution that the reports may not be accurate.

Reports Thursday quoted friends of Mohammed Emwazi as saying they believe he is the tall, London-accented speaker, dubbed "Jihadi John."

But VOA's Jamie Dettmer, in Rome, said European intelligence sources refused to confirm that Emwazi is Jihadi John, saying instead that the story is more complicated than that.

The man appears in the videos clad completely in black, with a mask over his face and a holster under his arm. U.S. and British officials have yet to comment on the news reports about his identity.

Emwazi's family declined a request for an interview, citing legal advice, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the story Thursday.

Appearance in videos

The masked man later known as Jihadi John first appeared in an Islamic State video in August, in which he appeared to behead American James Foley, although the action was never shown.

He later appeared in beheading videos involving other Western hostages: Britons Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning, American Peter Kassig. He also appeared in videos with Japanese hostages Haruna Yakawa and Kenji Goto last month, before they were slain.

The International Center for the Study of Radicalization at London's King's College, a leading resource for studying foreign jihadists, said it believed the identity "to be accurate and correct."

"The fact that Jihadi John has been unveiled in this manner demonstrates that whatever efforts are made, the ability to mask one's identity is limited or in fact impossible, and their true identities will eventually be revealed," it said in a statement reported by the French news agency AFP.

London's Metropolitan Police would not confirm a report that identified the suspect as Emwazi, who grew up in West London after having moved to Britain when he was 6 years old.

"We are not going to confirm the identity of anyone at this stage," Richard Walton, head of the police Counter Terrorism Command, said in a statement.

Emwazi, believed to be in his mid 20s, is reported to be a Kuwait-born, middle-class Londoner who graduated college with a computer programming degree. He was known to practice Islam.

Friends and acquaintances said they believe he began to radicalize in the past few years after trips to Africa and the Middle East.


According to media reports, he apparently was detained by authorities following a planned trip to Tanzania. He and two friends were detained upon landing in Dar es Salaam and eventually deported.

AFP said Emwazi had been accused by British intelligence officers of trying to make his way to Somalia, where they believed he had links to a man with connections to the jihadist militant group al-Shabab.

AFP also reported that Emwazi also was angered after being barred from flying from London to Kuwait, according to emails sent by him to rights group Cage. In emails in 2010 to the Washington Post and the Guardian, he claimed he "had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started."

The Interior Ministry could not immediately comment on the reports, AFP reported.

The Post reported Emwazi was believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined the Islamic State group.

Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report from Rome. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.