For months, he’s been known only as “Jihadi John,” the blustering ISIS militant in a balaclava with a knife and a British accent who taunts the West in propaganda videos before cutting a hostage’s throat.
Now he has a name.
A U.S. intelligence official confirmed to NBC News on Thursday that the man is Mohammed Emwazi. Associates said he is a 26-year-old Kuwaiti-born British citizen who left his adopted country and became radicalized after running afoul of intelligence officials while traveling abroad.
Intelligence officials reportedly identified him by using voice recognition software and talking to former hostages who met him. His name remained a secret until The Washington Post and the BBC made it public.
How he made it to Syria and joined ISIS remains a mystery. No photos have surfaced showing Emwazi without a mask — but a profile is slowly emerging. Here’s what we know.
- Mohammed Emwazi was born in Kuwait in 1988, and moved with his family to Britain when he was 6, according to CAGE, a British human rights group that worked with him from 2009 to 2013.
- Fluent in Arabic and English, Emwazi was raised in West London and attended the University of Westminster until 2009. “If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news,” the school said in a statement.
- Emwazi told CAGE that he hoped he could use his degree to build a successful career in Arab countries. According to CAGE, he became disillusioned when British security officials prevented him from traveling abroad, including a trip with friends to Tanzania and a visit to Kuwait, where he had found a job and a fiancee. "I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London," Emwazi wrote to a police complaints commission in 2010, according to CAGE.
- CAGE director Asim Qureshi said that he believed security forces’ treatment of Emwazi led to his radicalization. “This treatment prevented him from leading a normal life while having no means to obtain redress, even though no evidence was ever presented to suggest he committed any wrongdoing,” the group said in a statement.
- Emwazi became associated with several people in West London who later became involved with the Somali terror group al Shabab, according to Duncan Gardham, a security expert and journalist in London who has spoken with British security sources and members of the extremist community there. “That may have had an influence on his own psyche,” Gardham said.
- In 2013, Emwazi legally changed his name to Mohammed al-Ayan in hopes that it would help him avoid getting stopped, CAGE said. It didn’t. He was prevented from visiting Kuwait, and soon after disappeared, the group said. His family thought he had traveled to Turkey to help Syrian refugees. But police later told them they believed he had entered Syria, CAGE said.
- In the summer of 2014, ISIS released videos showing the beheadings of American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Britons Alan Henning and David Haines. Each featured a masked militant with a British accent, who was dubbed “Jihadi John” because he was one of four British members of ISIS whom hostages called “the Beatles.”
- The videos fueled speculation about his identity, particularly in Britain. Some news outlets referred to him as Muhammad ibn Muazzam. He was also thought to have used the nom de guerre Abu Saleh.
- Asked about reports that Emwazi and “Jihadi John” are the same person, CAGE’s Qureshi said that while he noticed striking similarities, they seemed like different people. “The Mohammed I knew was extremely kind, extremely gentle, extremely soft-spoken ... the most humble young person that I knew,” Qureshi said.
— Jon Schuppe, Alastair Jamieson, Brinley Bruton, Michele Neubert, Pete Williams, Emma Ong, Ziad Jaber, Marc Smith, and Jamieson Lesko