How a 'Safari Vacation' May Have Shaped Jihadi John

He complained about UK 'harassment' when he tried to make 2009 trip
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2015 1:11 AM CST
Updated Feb 27, 2015 6:00 AM CST
'Jihadi John' Was Detained in 2009
CAGE research director Asim Qureshi speaks during a press conference yesterday.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Mohammed Emwazi, the British-Kuwaiti man who has been identified as "Jihadi John," had long been known to British security services—and according to the advocacy group Cage, the way they treated him may have contributed to his radicalization. According to the group, when he tried to travel to Tanzania for a "safari vacation" in 2009, he was detained, questioned, and returned to the UK by security officials who accused him of wanting to join militants, and he complained about harassment by security services in the years afterward. Cage says that after Emwazi moved to Kuwait later in 2009, he returned to Britain for a visit the following year and was told he could not return to Kuwait, leaving him feeling trapped and unable to return to his job and fiance.

  • According to court papers seen by the BBC, however, authorities believed Emwazi was part of a network "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," and had at least one associate who ended up fighting in Somalia with al-Shabab radicals.

  • The director of Cage says Emwazi was never "somebody who ever said, ‘I hate the system, I reject the system,'" reports the New York Times. Instead, he says, "It's someone who said, 'I don't like the environment, but I'll work within the system to effect change.'"
  • But a lot of people aren't buying the argument that harsh treatment from security services turned Emwazi into a brutal ISIS executioner. "Malcolm X and Martin Luther King got a lot more pressure from police, and neither decided that decapitating people is the right response," Brookings Institution fellow JM Berger tells the Times.
  • After he was unable to return to Kuwait, Emwazi trained as an English teacher and changed his name to Mohammed al-Ayan in 2013, according to Cage. After another failed attempt to get to Kuwait, he left the family home in London to travel elsewhere. His parents reported him missing in August that year and were informed four months later that he was in Syria.
  • Around where Emwazi grew up in a comfortable part of West London, people are stunned to find "Jihadi John" once lived among them. "It's a big shock to me and everyone here," a worshiper at a mosque 100 yards away from the address where Emwazi grew up tells the Washington Post. "He seems to be some sort of bogeyman for the Muslim community. We don't know who he is."
  • Former primary school classmates describe Emwazi, who has five siblings and whose father is a taxi driver, as popular and obsessed with soccer. "He was the only Muslim [in] our class," one classmate tells the Daily Mail, recalling that Emwazi once got up in religious studies to explain his religion and spoke about fasting.
  • Emwazi graduated from the University of Westminster in 2009 with a degree in computer science. "If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news," the university said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with the victims and their families."
(More Jihadi John stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.