Senior official admits final confirmation will take some time, but maintains confidence that Mohammed Emwazi was killed.
The U.S. military said Friday it was “reasonably certain” that it killed the ruthless Islamic State extremist known as “Jihadi John” in a drone strike in Syria.
The masked British militant targeted in Thursday’s strike sparked worldwide revulsion with his grisly, on-camera executions of foreign aid workers and journalists in war-ravaged Syria. “We are reasonably certain that we killed the target that we intended to kill, which is ‘Jihadi John,’” Col. Steve Warren said from Baghdad in a briefing that was webcast live to reporters at the Pentagon.
Warren said it would take time for final formal confirmation that the high-value target killed in the Hellfire missile drone strike was indeed the 27-year-old Briton who was born Mohammed Emwazi. But he stressed that the United States had “great confidence that this individual was Jihadi John.”
“We know for a fact that the weapons system hit its intended target, and that the personnel who were on the receiving end of that weapons system were in fact killed,” he said.
Emwazi was being driven in a car, and he and a driver are the men believed to have been killed, Warren said. He provided no further specifics about the strike itself, other than to say the U.S. military believed there were no civilians killed or wounded in the attack.
Intelligence sources had been tracking Emwazi “for some time,” Warren said.
The U.S. military collected intelligence data on the target, and when a clear opportunity arose, “we took the shot,” he added. “This guy was a human animal, and killing him is probably making the world a little bit better place.”
He added that Emwazi was “an ISIL celebrity” but not a crucial figure in the group’s senior hierarchy. “There is certainly a significant blow to the prestige of ISIL, but Jihadi John wasn’t a major tactical figure or operational figure,” Warren said. But he acknowledged that Emwazi was “a primary recruitment tool” for the Islamic State.
Emwazi was born in Kuwait, but his family moved to London when he was six years old and he grew up in North Kensington, a leafy, middle-class area where a network of Islamist extremists has since been uncovered.