Islamic State: Profile of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John’

Emwazi in one of the videos in Syria which feature the killing of hostages

Mohammed Emwazi was born in Kuwait in 1988 and came to the UK in 1994 when he was six years old. He is believed to have been educated at the Quintin Kynaston Community Academy in St John’s Wood, north London although that is not confirmed. He later graduated in computing from the University of Westminster in around 2009.

His final address in the UK before he went abroad was in the Queen’s Park area of north-west London. Emwazi came to the attention of the security services in 2009-2010 as MI5 and other agencies monitored suspected extremists that they had linked to investigations into foreign fighters joining al-Shabab in Somalia.

Emwazi himself was never charged with a terrorism-related offence in the UK but he was detained abroad after travelling in 2009 to Tanzania following his graduation.

Going by the name Muhammad ibn Muazzam, he had travelled with another Briton, known as “Abu Talib” and a third man, a German convert called “Omar”.

Once they arrived, they were immediately denied entry by the local security services. They were interrogated and Emwazi later claimed to Cage, a campaign group in London, that they had been subject to harassment and abuse.

Questioned in Europe

Court papers naming Emwazi
Court papers naming Emwazi from 2011 – names redacted by the BBC

According to Cage, Emwazi was questioned by both Dutch and British security services as he returned home via The Netherlands. The British MI5 officer used the name “Nick”. The account he gave to the campaign group includes allegations that MI5 spoke to his fiancee – and that scared her off, ending the relationship. MI5 reportedly asked him what he thought of the London suicide attacks of 2005, the war in Afghanistan and his opinion of Jews.

In September 2009, he returned to Kuwait to stay with his father’s family and, according to those who met him at the time, to look for a new life in the Middle East. He had landed a good computing job and was, according to Asim Qureshi of Cage, planning to marry and settle down. He returned twice to the UK – but claimed he was ultimately prevented from returning to Kuwait in 2010 when he was held and interrogated for six hours at Heathrow. During this detention, he alleges he was assaulted by an officer.

This experience, according to Cage, changed the course of his life because he had planned to marry in Kuwait and had only returned to London to finalise wedding plans.

Cage claims that he became desperate to leave the UK and that in 2013, he changed his name by deed poll to Mohammed al-Ayan and tried once more to travel to Kuwait. But he was stopped again. His parents reported him missing in August. Four months later police are said to have told the family that he was in Syria, although the family thought he was doing aid work in Turkey. We do not know exactly when he entered the war zone but he was first reported to be in Idlib the same year, assisting in guarding Western hostages.

In August 2014, he appeared in the video which shows the murder of US journalist James Foley – and then over the subsequent months, similar films showing the killing of Steve Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning. In none of these videos is it clear whether it is the masked man or another person off camera who kills the victims.

But in November 2014, the same militant features in a hostage death video – and this time he appears to be carrying out the killing of a Syrian military officer. He also stands over the severed head of American Peter Abdulrahman Kassig. Two months later he appears in another video in which he kills the Japanese hostage, Kenji Goto.


Mohammed Emwazi timeline:

  • 1988: Born in Kuwait, moves to UK in 1994
  • 2009: Completes computing degree at University of Westminster
  • Aug 2009: Travels to Tanzania with two friends for safari but refused entry at Dar es Salaam. Put on flight to Amsterdam. After questioning there, returns to Dover
  • Sept 2009: Travels to Kuwait to stay with father’s family
  • July 2010: Returns to UK for short stay but told he cannot return to Kuwait as visa denied
  • 2012: Passes Celta English language teaching course
  • 2013: Changes name by deed poll. Tries to travel to Kuwait but is stopped. Disappears. Parents report him missing. Police tell family four months later he has entered Syria

Source: Cage, London-based campaign group

‘Jihadi John’ movement mapped


Extremist links

Prior to his departure from the UK, Emwazi came under MI5 investigation as a suspected core member of an extremist network based loosely in Camden and north-west London. According to court papers seen by BBC News, MI5 said it had been investigating a British-based network that was “involved in the provision of funds and equipment to Somalia for terrorism-related purposes and the facilitation of individuals’ travel from the United Kingdom to Somalia to undertake terrorism-related activity”.

MI5 said that the group held “covert meetings… in public spaces in order to prevent the authorities from monitoring the content of discussions”.

Two of his associates were subjected to either control orders – a form of house arrest – or a lighter-touch monitoring regime from 2011. Emwazi was said to have often visited the home of one of the men during early 2011 – although he said that Emwazi was merely an acquaintance.

Bilal Berjawi
Court papers identified Bilal Berjawi as an associate of Emwazi

One of the men he knew who was subject to control orders is Ibrahim Magag, only known as “BX” at the time of his monitoring. He absconded on Boxing Day 2012 and has not been heard of publicly since.

Another alleged associate was Bilal Bejawi, a man who went on to fight alongside al-Shabab in Somalia. He was killed in a drone strike in 2012 after his British citizenship had been revoked.

Cage, a pressure group that represents people it says are victims of security service abuses, says that Emwazi contacted them after he claimed to be suffering harassment from MI5 as he tried to return to the country of his birth, Kuwait.

The organisation says he gave up the plan to move and get married in the Middle East because of the alleged interference by MI5 or others.


Jihadi John sightings

  • August 2014: Video in which US journalist James Foley is apparently beheaded
  • 2 September 2014: Video in which US journalist Steve Sotloff is apparently beheaded
  • 13 September 2014: Video in which British aid worker David Haines is apparently beheaded
  • October 2014: Video in which British aid worker Alan Henning is apparently beheaded
  • November 2014: Video in which Jihadi John is shown killing a Syrian soldier in a mass beheading, which also shows body of US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter Kassig
  • 20 January 2015: Video in which Jihadi John is seen standing alongside two Japanese hostages and demanding a ransom in exchange for their release
  • 31 January 2015: Video released appearing to show Jihadi John beheading Japanese hostage Kenji Goto
  • More to follow…


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