Targeting the Islamic State’s Executioner

Mohammed Emwazi is the British-accented masked man seen in several Islamic State videos executing the group’s hostages. Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Briton who earned the monicker Jihadi John, was the target of a U.S. airstrike on Raqaa, Syria, the Defense Department said in a statement.

“We are assessing the results of tonight’s operation and will provide additional information as and where appropriate,” Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, said late Thursday.

The BBC quoted an unnamed U.S. military source as saying there was a “high degree of certainty” Emwazi was killed in Thursday’s strike near Raqqa.

Emwazi can be seen in the videos showing the killings of Steven Sotloff and James Foley, the American journalists; Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, the U.S. aid worker; David Haines and Alan Henning, the British aid workers; Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist, and other hostages released by the Islamic State as part of its chilling propaganda efforts.

Speaking outside Downing Street on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the strike an “act of self-defense,” adding it was the “right thing to do.”

“We have been working with the United States literally around the clock to track him down,” Cameron said. “This was a combined effort, and the contribution of both our countries was essential. Emwazi is a barbaric murderer.”

Cameron added it was still uncertain whether Emwazi was killed, but said the strike “will demonstrate to those that would do Britain, our people and allies harm we have a long reach, we have unwavering determination and we never forget about our citizens.”

Emwazi is one of many Western-raised Muslims who joined the Islamic State, the group that now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq. As my colleague Adam Chandler reported in February:

While Emwazi was born in Kuwait, his middle-class background and academic success—he reportedly graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in computer programming—position him within a seemingly counterintuitive frame for a foreign ISIS recruit. As Karen Tumulty notes on Twitter, “‘Jihadi John’ from an upscale family, as was Osama bin Laden. Both contradict thesis that radicalization about economic frustration.”

How Emwazi, 27, transitioned from a student in a Western capital to a force of malice in an Islamic terror group in the Middle East will be the subject of analysis and conjecture as Western governments continue to grapple with ISIS’s surprising ability to recruit on a global scale.