Jihadi John had a reputation as a ruthless executioner, but the ISIS jihadist suspected to be British citizen Mohammed Emwazi was anything but a devout Muslim during his teen years, classmates recall.
Emwazi has been the target of American and coalition forces battling ISIS, and this week the Pentagon announced that he was likely killed in an airstrike in the Syrian capital of Raqqa.
— ABC News (@ABC) November 13, 2015
Though he was known as a cold-hearted killer in the fundamentalist Islamist militant group, classmates who knew Mohammad Emwazi in England said he once was not very strict at all.
“He smoked drugs, drank and was violent towards other boys,” a former classmate, also a Muslim, told the Sun earlier this year. “The fact that he portrays himself as a strict Muslim is laughable and shameful.”
Others remembered the man known as Jihadi John as quiet, almost painfully awkward, and obsessed over girls he liked. One classmate told the Sunday Mirror that he was afraid of even talking to others.
“Only eight years ago, he was a painfully shy, nervous guy who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He was bullied and humiliated by girls.
“To think he has killed so many people is impossible to comprehend. He was so painfully shy that he barely spoke to anyone.
“Whenever he did, he had this habit of pulling his hand up to his mouth. He’d done it ever since a different girl had told him in front of loads of other kids that he had bad breath. Everyone laughed. He tried to laugh it off, but it was obvious that it had hurt him. His eyes teared-up and he wandered off on his own to a corner of the playground.”
But Jihadi John was also known to classmates as a good athlete, who later became popular through his on-field prowess. After his primary school years, Jihadi John began to fall in with a radical group, sources said. This came as a surprise to many who knew Emwazi and his family.
A woman, who was not identified, told the Mirror that his parents were normal and loving.
“Mohammed’s father is one of the most good natured men in the world. His mum is very nice too. I am completely overwhelmed. At some point I remember his dad telling me he had become more religious but I didn’t think much about it. He was very caring. He was very quick to defend people close to him if he thought they had been hurt. I don’t care about him if that is what he has been doing. I don’t care what happens to him. But I feel very bad for the family.”
After traveling to Syria, Jihadi John became known to the western world as the masked executioner seen beheading hostages, including American journalist James Foley and relief worker Alan Henning. This made him a high-profile target of opposition forces, and this week the Pentagon said they were reasonably certain that Emwazi was killed in an airstrike.
— LBC (@LBC) November 13, 2015
“We know for a fact that the weapon system hit its intended target, and that the personnel who were on the receiving end of that weapons system were in fact killed,” said Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the American-led coalition fighting (via the New York Times).
British Prime Minister David Cameron said that forces were working “literally around the clock” to hunt down Jihadi John, and officials from both nations said his death represents a major victory in the fight against ISIS.
U.S. officials said they still need time to confirm that Jihadi John was killed in the airstrike.
[Image via Twitter/CNN]