Behind The Twisted Appeal Of ‘Jihadi John’

Sky’s Foreign Affairs Editor Sam Kiley examines why the infamous killer is a magnet for new recruits to the death cult.

A militant seen in an Islamic State video claiming that US hostage Peter Kassig has been killed.

Jihadi John is thought to have killed a number of western hostages He has been Islamic State’s poster boy of horror.

Once dubbed ‘Jihadi John’, Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Briton from northwest London, has been named by friends and associatesallegedly as the death cult’s best known murderer.

Sadly, and dangerously, such notoriety serves the purpose of the movement he has joined – demonstrating a sense of invincibility as a purging ‘saint’ for the cause.

Emwazi, if he is ever formally identified as the infamous killer, appears to closely fit and serves the psychological profile which has driven much of Islamic State’s appeal.

Experts speak of three important characteristics which drive the appeal of IS.


There is the notion of “cognitive closure”. Islamic State’s uncompromising theologically driven world perspective in a world of “unsettling, anxiety inducing uncertainties” offers men and women, especially those in the West who are from immigrant backgrounds and may feel alienated, an end to the “cravings for coherence and closure”, according to Professor Arie Kruglanski, from the University of Maryland.

Writing on the E-International Relations website Prof Kruglanski, a leading authority on the minds of terrorists, observed that fundamentalism offers people a “world of good versus evil, saints versus sinners, order versus chaos; a pure universe in black and white admitting no shades of grey. A fundamentalist ideology… offers a future that is predictable and controllable.

“Such a perspective holds particular fascination for confused youths in transitional stages of their lives, who drift like rudderless ships and find themselves torn by conflicting cultural demands.”

Emwazi, a computer science graduate from Westminster University, appears to have been restless.

He is reported to have been arrested in Tanzania on suspicion of links to al Shabab in Somalia nine years ago. He complained of being interviewed and “threatened” by MI5.

He sought work in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia but grew up in the gang-blighted parts of Queen’s Park in northwest London.

Jihadi ideology removes uncertainty and provides a sense of superiority – so much so that those who do not share its tenets are deemed worthy only of obliteration.

Another appeal of IS is that it offers followers a chance at being significant.

Emzawi, or Jihadi John, is seen as a hero by himself, his comrades and internet groupies attracted to his brand of bullying machismo.

The message from him is “you too can be a world player, bring war and bloodshed in return for worldly recognition, and end to the ‘humiliation’ and rewards in heaven following ‘martyrdom’.

This “denotes the supreme importance to humans of being noticed, mattering, and deserving honour and esteem”, Prof Kruglanski writes.

In recent months, the base instincts of young men and women are also forming part of the IS appeal.


Sex is selling their agenda. Young fighters are promised a bride, sex slaves or captured women, while their groupies are lured to Syria by internet images of handsome armed men and the promise of an Islamic life in the arms of a hero.

IS has seen recruitment leap from 10,000 to more than 40,000, with 12,000 foreign fighters of whom at least 3,000 hail from Europe.

Emwazi is a magnet for IS recruits.

His appeal will only end, says Prof Kruglanski, with “ignominy, an unglamorous death in the desert with no one to care”.


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