U.S. all but sure it got ‘Jihadi John’ – Philly.com
Speaking in Baghdad, Army Col. Steven Warren, a U.S. military spokesman, told reporters that Thursday’s U.S. drone attack hit its intended target and people were killed. It remained unclear, however, whether the London-raised militant, Mohammed Emwazi, was among them, he said.
Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born British citizen who was shown in videos beheading several Western hostages, came to symbolize Islamic State’s brutality and was seen as a potential recruiting tool in the English-speaking world.
Warren did not give details of why U.S. military officials can express increased confidence that Emwazi, 27, was killed, but he said the drone strike was carried out as planned.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron lauded the operation, but also added that there was no certainty that the British extremist was dead.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said experts were “assessing the results” of the strike around the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL and ISIS.
In a statement Friday, Cameron said it was not certain that Emwazi was killed in an operation that the prime minister described as “a combined effort” between U.S. and British forces.
“If this strike was successful – and we still await confirmation of that – it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL,” Cameron said.
Cameron alternated between speaking about Emwazi in the past and the present tenses, describing him as a “barbaric murderer” who was “lead executioner” for Islamic State. “This was an act of self defense. It was the right thing to do,” he said.
The BBC, citing a “senior military source,” reported Friday that there was a “high degree of certainty” that Emwazi was hit.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving intelligence assessment, said U.S. officials believe the two people in the targeted vehicle were killed, but the officials were not able to say with certainty that Emwazi was one of them.
The official cautioned that in such cases where DNA evidence is difficult to obtain and the death is not easily established by other intelligence means, definitive confirmation may not be possible. “We could potentially never know,” he said.
The Syrian activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which monitors events in Raqqa, reported that a drone strike targeted a car near the Islamic Court shortly before midnight Thursday. It was among a dozen blasts heard during an intense wave of strikes, said the Twitter feed of the group, whose reports rely on a network of activists inside Raqqa.
If confirmed, Emwazi’s death would cap more than a year of Western efforts to hunt down a militant who became widely known in August 2014 when he appeared – masked and dressed from head to toe in black – in a video in which he beheaded American journalist James Foley. Emwazi subsequently appeared in grisly videos showing the killing of foreign hostages, speaking to the camera in taunting tones, with a balaclava over his face, a knife in his hand, and a holster under his left arm.
Emwazi is thought to have participated in the beheadings of Steven Sotloff, another American journalist; Abdul-Rahman Kassig, an American aid worker; David Haines and Alan Henning, both British aid workers; and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.
“It is a very small solace to learn that Jihadi John may have been killed by the U.S. government,” Foley’s parents, John and Diane, said in a statement. “His death does not bring Jim back. If only so much effort had been given to finding and rescuing Jim and the other hostages . . . they might be alive today.”
That statement was echoed by Art and Shirley Sotloff, the parents of Steven Sotloff: “This development doesn’t change anything for us; it’s too little too late.”