“Individuals who joined gangs had specific needs – to belong to something.” This is taken from a Study of Gang Membership, by Maxson, Whitlock, and Klein.
In the tiny neighborhood of Notting Hill, Mohammed Emwazi, identified as “Jihadi John” would walk to the area mosque with other Muslims from the nearby housing projects. The loosely associated group of men knew each other from childhood, forming alliances of shared faith and birth region. The majority of London Muslims came from Pakistan and the young men found common ground as they came from Arab or African regions.
Emwazi had ambition and love in his life. He had graduated university with a emphasis in computer programming from the University of Westminster and planned to marry.
Then something changed. The soft-spoken, smart, humble man spiraled into a fever of anger and resentment that has now manifested into acts of brutality that is beyond reprieve.
How did this happen?
According to USA News, Asim Qureshi of CAGE, a London-based advocacy who assists Muslims who have difficulties with British intelligence services said that Emwazi first contacted CAGE in 2009. Emwazi said he had traveled to Tanzania with two other men after leaving university for a safari, but was deported and questioned in Amsterdam by British and Dutch intelligence services. Emwazi was suspected of attempting to join al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
In 2010, Emwazi accused British intelligence services of preventing him from traveling to Kuwait, where he planned to work and marry.
CAGE quoted an email Emwazi had sent saying, “I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started. But now I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.”
“The Mohammed that I knew was extremely kind, extremely gentle, extremely soft-spoken, was the most humble young person that I knew,” Qureshi said.
He said he hadn’t had contact with Emwazi since January, 2012. However, when shown the video of a beheading, Quershi saw strong similarities between the man in the video and Emwazi, whom he knew from 2009 to 2012.
But he said “I can’t be 100 percent certain.”
How did a group of young men in London become so alienated and distanced from their host country?
According to the New York Times, Emwazi and his troupe became involved with the North London Boys, an organization that recruits disenfranchised young men like Emwazi and has sent dozens of young men to fight, first in Somalia and more recently in Syria.
While Emwazi’s acts are most notably public and brutal, he is not unique. In fact, the list of radicals emerging from his hometown of Bilal al-Berjawi, located in northwest London is far from coincidental. According to the New York Times, two Somali men convicted of plotting to bomb the London public transport system on July 21, 2005, lived within two miles of Emwazi. A one-time amateur rapper who notoriously posed in Syria with a severed head grew up just a few streets away.
Disenfranchisement and disconnect from England was not the only motivating factor for militant identification. These young men were inspired into radical action by the civil war in Somalia, the Iraq War and other military actions abroad. They heeded a call for action to protect the homeland that they vied for and felt a strong identification with, regardless of birth or proximity.
Another similarity is that Emwazi and several others who later became foreign fighters, is that they had previously complained to CAGE about what they described as harassment at the hands of the British security services, including long detentions at airports and apparent efforts to recruit them as informants.
In all fairness, Emwazi’s neighborhood is not exclusive for the birth of militant terrorists. Researchers estimate that some 100 Britons have attempted to join Shabab in recent years, among them Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men who murdered the British soldier Lee Rigby on a London street.
Adebolajo was also detained and sent back to London when attempting to go to Somalia.
Read more about Jihadi John by clicking here.