WASHINGTON — He hid his face, but “Jihadi John” was the English-speaking voice of ISIS. His twisted, videotaped taunts and acts of terrible cruelty — beheading hostages who had gone to the Middle East to help others and report stories to the world — symbolized the Islamist militant group’s depravity and ruthlessness.
Not anymore, it appears.
U.S. Army Col. Steven Warren said Friday that a drone strike the previous night killed everyone in the targeted vehicle, with Mohammed Emwazi — a.k.a. “Jihadi John” — likely among them.
“We are reasonably certain that we killed the target that we intended to kill, which is Jihadi John,” the Army spokesman said. “…This guy was a human animal, and killing him is probably making the world a little bit better place.”
The United States had been tracking him closely since Wednesday, and Thursday he was seen leaving a building and getting into a car, U.S. officials said. Three drones went after that vehicle, which also had another person inside, and two Hellfire missiles were fired.
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian activist group, said a missile hit Emwazi’s car directly at 11:51 p.m. (4:51 p.m. ET) in front of an ISIS court in Raqqa. Citing a source in the de facto Syrian capital, the same group said that ISIS militants then ringed that vehicle and two others that had been struck to prevent anyone from getting closer.
Speaking hours later on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron cast the airstrike as an act of self-defense. If it is confirmed Emwazi is dead, “it will strike at the heart of ISIS,” said Cameron, whose government worked with their U.S. colleagues ahead of the strike.
“We always said we will do whatever is necessary to track down Emwazi and stop him taking the lives of others,” he said.
But there is no joy or sense of victory from Louise Woodward-Styles. Her friend, British aid worker David Haines, was among the hostages whose beheading videos featured Emwazi. Others included American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid worker David Haines and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.
“There’s just sadness,” Woodward-Styles said. “It reminds you of the loss of Alan and just hoping it’s closure for the family. But also I hope it reminds people that the issue of Syria is still ongoing, and not to forget the reasons why Alan was there.”
As to Emwazi himself, Woodward-Styles added, “I don’t think he deserves the attention that his apparent death is causing. I think he was a coward.”
Justice for ‘victims of this evil man’
Emwazi, a British citizen, has been a most wanted man.
As the masked face of ISIS, he appeared in a series of brutal videos, dressed head-to-toe in black — his eyes and voice his lone revealing features — and holding a knife.
The Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organization in the UK, called Emwazi the manifestation of evil.
“The killing of Mohammed Emwazi in Syria is a significant moment in the fight to get justice for David Haines, Alan Henning and all the victims of this evil man,” said Mohammed Shafiq, the group’s executive director.
That sentiment wasn’t shared by CAGE, the London-based civil rights group that had contact with Emwazi. It tweeted that relatives of the beheaded hostages “have mixed feelings” about the targeted airstrike, with some preferring he be captured rather than killed.
The group itself stated “its opposition to extrajudicial killing of any kind,” adding that “state-sponsored targeted assassinations undercut the judicial processes that provide the lessons by which spirals of violence can be stopped.”
Rather than be killed, CAGE said, Emwazi should have been tried as a war criminal. Because that won’t happen, the world will never know what spurred him — and many others in the West and beyond — to join ISIS.
“His killing means key crucial questions around his joining ISIS, as well as the kidnapping and killing of hostages will remain unanswered,” CAGE tweeted.
Marquette University offers the following statement regarding James Foley:
“The Marquette University community continues to keep James Foley and his family in our warmest thoughts and prayers. While we are aware of the most recent developments regarding those believed to be responsible for the despicable act leading to his death, our focus remains on celebrating James’ life and hoping that his family and friends continue to heal and find some peace.”