The horror of ‘Jihadi John’ and the ‘Jihadi Janes’ coming to join him

February 27, 2015
A masked, black-clad militant brandishes a knife in this still image from video

A masked, black-clad militant, who has been identified by the Washington Post newspaper as a Briton named Mohammed Emwazi, brandishes a knife in this still image from a 2014 video obtained from SITE Intel Group, Feb 26, 2015. REUTERS/SITE Intel Group/Handout via Reuters

Once again,this past week, the Brits have found that a fellow citizen wishes to either kill them or convert them to a particular interpretation of Islam. Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait and brought up in a middle class area of West London, a graduate in computer science from the University of Westminster is “Jihadi John.” He is thought — he was masked except for the eyes — to have been pictured in the videos of the beheadings of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter.

The fact that he’s a British citizen occasioned less horrified surprise, or at least less comment, than it did when, in the summer of 2005, four young British citizens murdered 52 and injured 700 of their fellows on London transport. Their leader, Mohammed Siddique Khan, had pre-recorded a video message, aired by Al Jazeera in September of that year, to say that “Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.”

This remains the default position, the rationale and the excuse: you (the Western democracies) make war on Muslims: we, the cutting edge of Islam, make war on you. There was much debate about the radicalization of the young, especially the Muslim young.

Since that time, the radicalization seems to have gone deeper. The numbers of young British people who have left to fight for Islamic State and other extremist groups are a matter of debate: last August, the British Member of Parliament Khalid Mahmood, who has been a constant critic of the lack of effort to de-radicalize young people, said some 500 young Muslims left the UK with jihad in their hearts each year. That makes for a cumulative figure of “at least 1,500,” which is far higher than the UK Foreign Office estimates of 300 to 400, and more than double the number of Muslims – 600 – in the UK armed services.

A few days before the identity of Jihadi John was revealed, three other young Brits – all teenage girls  – left the UK, and are believed to now be in Syria. It’s commonly assumed that they have gone to marry Islamic State warriors: the journalist Nosheen Iqbal wrote that “IS lads brand themselves as rock stars. Marrying one is a religiously approved way to channel the mad, hormonal energy that powers all teenagers – Muslim girls included.”

It seems they were groomed by another young woman, Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow, who left her home in November 2013 to go to Syria and is now believed to be a recruiter for others to follow her example. Her family members are distraught: in a statement, they said that her “actions are a perverted and evil distortion of Islam.”

The family’s spokesman, a well-known activist of the left as well as a lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said in an interview  with the BBC that it was the fault of the security services. “Aqsa’s social media has been monitored since she disappeared over a year ago, yet despite alleged contact between the girls and Aqsa, they failed to stop them from leaving the UK to Turkey, a staging post for Syria.”

It was something of a shock to hear that said, especially by one as critical as Anwar has been of security service “snooping.” It’s a huge contradiction – the services snoop unreasonably … and should snoop more effectively. But but it does illuminate two constraints, which now press upon western states.

The first is the constraint of budget. In the UK, as in the United States, the secret services have grown: but still pale before the size of the possible threat. One ex-intelligence officer told me it takes up to 60 officers to mount a 24/7 surveillance, at a cost of between $15,000 to 23,000 a day. The police guarding the Ecuadorian embassy in London, ready to arrest Julian Assange to face rape charges in Sweden when – if – he leaves his near three-year incarceration, cost $17,000 a day. The British security services, MI5, MI6 and the monitoring center GCHQ, have a joint budget of over $3 billion: it means they have to choose, very selectively, who they watch and for how long.

There are the constraints of democracy. Chris Phillips, former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, asked, rather forlornly, on a panel discussion, on Friday, “What do we do when someone hasn’t committed a crime but is on the cusp of terrorism? All decisions taken by security services are based on who at this time is likely to cross the line between belief and action…this one (Jihadi John) got away.”

Dr Afzal Ashraf, a counterterrorism expert in the defense think tank RUSI, said on the same panel that young people were impelled abroad by a perception of success on Islamic State’s part; and because charismatic individuals had radicalized them.

There are constraints of having a free press. The security services knew about Mohammed Emwazi/Jihadi John; indeed, had tried to recruit him. They wanted his identity kept secret: but it was blown, by the Washington Post. Much more comprehensively, Edward Snowden took millions of files from the U.S.’ National Security Agency, a fraction of which have been published, more to come. The security services say it’s immensely damaging. Just as independent journalism becomes more aggressive in publishing leaks, so the dangers to security – from Islamic militancy, from a more aggressive Russia, from cyber attacks and from failed states in the Middle East and Africa, become greater – a malign coincidence.

Young men and women become radicalized in the quiet of their bedroom, sitting before a computer screen, often after they’ve done their homework. A book just published on the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik – who killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in July 2011 – shows one, both intelligent and capable of productive work and friendships, turn himself into a sword of vengeance on the “cultural Marxists” – the ruling Labor Party – who had betrayed Norway into a multicultural hell. His ideas, and his lengthy manifesto, were culled from a feverish search through the Web for writings and images that bolstered his grandiose obsession.

That is how the jihadists of our time and in our countries operate. For all the efforts to counter it – increasingly by Muslim activists, scholars, parents, teachers – the digitalized hatred grows. There are many, many, would-be Jihadi Johns – and Jihadi Janes.

14 comments

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why is there a scarcity of pictures of the accused. Is there a political correctness reason; we are not going to blame Muslims for this nutty John, or blame Johns in general. Its possible he was radicalized by the the western media who are the biggest conveyor of ISIS propaganda

Posted by thoma | Report as abusive

Is there some reason the Jihadi John hyperlink in the first paragraph goes to apple.com?

Posted by chaemeleo | Report as abusive

It is very sad that psychopaths killers and criminals are hiding behind religion when they commit those crimes.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

We should remember that Americans, Israelis and “Westerners” are greatly hated for the killing of thousands of civilians, the destruction of thousands of homes, and the wreckage of cities and nations. Thus our horror relative to Jihadi John probably translates into hero worship by those who have suffered from our “foreign policies”.

Posted by Rinaldo36 | Report as abusive

ISIL is the non-recognized state of Sunni Arabs. It will not succeed outside its ethnic area. All the troubles come from stupid US approach to save the current borders of Iraq. This approach throws humanity back into religious wars because radical Muslims hijack this situation and “western” media is glad to represent the events as “radicalism” to avoid real discussion about real reasons. The borders of many states are the product of absolute monarchies and imperialism so trying to save them we return to the epoch of monarchies, imperialism and religious wars.

Posted by hto_eto | Report as abusive

According to the US State Department, all these jihadists need are jobs, education and they will stop the beheadings, hackings, enslavement, rapes and bombings of those who do not bow to Islam.

Really? Jihadi John had a university education and could have had a decent job with his degree in hand. Were the three young women who are now in Syria lack for education, along with food, housing, clothing and families who cared for them?

Excuses will not stop jihadists and those who support them. Their “religion” is merely and excuse to kill others they deem “infidels” and those who will not accept their murderous ways and “peaceful religion”.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

The barbarity of IS is big news but one should not loose one’s perspective. There are nearly 1.5m Muslims In the UK. Many of them are Shias and more belong to Sects that Pakistan constitution regards as ‘non-Muslim’. The estimates of 500 or even 1,500 British Muslims in IS is minuscule of the Muslim population. British politicians and media should note that despite what the West has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc. the vast majority of British Muslim do not wish to fight for IS and are loyal citizens.

Posted by AtamVetta | Report as abusive

These are people with Interictal Personality Syndrome namely Gastaut-Geschwind Syndrome that have in addition Episodic Dyscontrol Syndrome with hyper-religiosity, philosophical and mystical preoccupations, often hyposexuality others still hypersexual or showing fetish paraphelic interests, hyper graphic writings, poetry, or painting often with very poor handwriting (messy) or handwriting that is messy, may/may not be coherent, irritability, bradyphrenia viscosity, anergia, with martyrdom suicide syndrome and interest in the works of Hadith al-Bukhari, Sunni Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Malik ibn Anas, Bidaya al-Mudjtahid, Ibn Qudama, Ibn Taymiyyah, or Nazi “Cult of Heroic Death” and “Martyrdom” ideologies as promulgated by the Mufti of Jersulaem through the above Sunni writings.

Posted by metwo123 | Report as abusive

Computer programmers have observed that “[t]he essence of software design, like the writing of poetry, is a creative process hence Gastaut-Geschwind Syndrome with Episodic Dyscontrol Syndrome and hyper-religiousity with hyper graphic poetry and philosophical and mystical preoccupations, often hyposexuality others still hypersexual or showing fetish paraphelic interests, hyper graphic writings, poetry, or painting often with very poor handwriting (messy) or handwriting that is messy, may/may not be coherent, irritability, bradyphrenia viscosity, anergia, with martyrdom suicide syndrome and interest in the works of Hadith al-Bukhari, Sunni Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Malik ibn Anas, Bidaya al-Mudjtahid, Ibn Qudama, Ibn Taymiyyah, or Nazi “Cult of Heroic Death” and “Martyrdom” ideologies as promulgated by the Mufti of Jersulaem through the above Sunni writings.

He was a computer science person, and possibly a poet as well.

Posted by metwo123 | Report as abusive

John has martyrdom suicide syndrome and reads namely Hadith al-Bukhari, Sunni Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Malik ibn Anas, Bidaya al-Mudjtahid, Ibn Qudama, Ibn Taymiyyah, or Nazi “Cult of Heroic Death” and “Martyrdom” ideologies as promulgated by the Mufti of Jersulaem through the above Sunni writings.

Posted by metwo123 | Report as abusive

If our governments really didn’t like these terrorists, they wouldn’t arm them or train them…..
Nor would they allow them to live on welfare while preaching full blown jihad and take over of the west. These are ‘mercenary’/jihadi armies are led by Western Intelligence Service Officers….

Posted by joejohnson043 | Report as abusive

It is a religion that missed the Renaissance and is suddenly confronted with the reality of 21st century, where half the world full of apostates are doing much better than they are. Not that much different and intolerant from the Catholic church five hundred years ago however. They will evolve over the next generation or two courtesy of the Internet and cultural interaction by the outside world, this is what all the Islamic turmoil and violence is really about. This horrible denial of human rights is a manifestation of that, they will reinvent themselves just as the Christian church had to over a few hundred years but in the meantime keep the violent cult baboons away from the WMDs.

Posted by George286 | Report as abusive

It is a religion that missed the Renaissance and is suddenly confronted with the reality of 21st century, where half the world full of apostates are doing much better than they are. Not that much different and intolerant from the Catholic church five hundred years ago however. They will evolve over the next generation or two courtesy of the Internet and cultural interaction by the outside world, this is what all the Islamic turmoil and violence is really about. This horrible denial of human rights is a manifestation of that, they will reinvent themselves and that resistance is what this is, just as the Christian church had to over a few hundred years. And they are only a fraction of Muslims who can’t hold back the floodgates. The baboons we see are just howling the loudest at the moment, but in the meantime keep these violent cult members away from the WMDs, away from any weapons worse than stolen AK-47s and plane schedules, help the modernists to destroy them.

Posted by George286 | Report as abusive

Just read an article this morning that reported 180 US citizens have gone overseas to fight with ISIS – and 40 of them have returned to the US. Where are they? Why were they even allowed to come back to the US? Will they slink into the “shadows” as so many illegals have done and no one can find them?

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive