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U.S. reasonably certain strike killed ‘Jihadi John’

Emwazi, a British citizen, participated in the videos showing the murders of U.S. journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley

Published: Updated:

The U.S. military said Friday it was “reasonably certain” that it killed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant known as “Jihadi John” in a drone strike in Syria.

“We are reasonably certain that we killed the target that we intended to kill, which is ‘Jihadi John,’” Colonel Steven Warren said from Baghdad in a briefing that was webcast live to reporters at the Pentagon.

A U.S. official said a British observation drone took part in the U.S. strike in Syria that military officials believe killed “Jihadi John.”

Three drones were used in the operation in Raqa, the de facto ISIS capital in war-torn Syria, and “one of them was British,” the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that U.S. drones had fired the Hellfire missiles.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities have detained a suspected close associate of “Jihadi John,” a Turkish official said Friday.

The official told AFP that Aine Lesley Davis, like “Jihadi John” a British citizen who guarded foreign prisoners in Syria, was believed to be among several Islamist suspects detained in a swoop in Istanbul and was now being held by the Turkish authorities.

The masked British militant targeted in Thursday’s strike had appeared in a string of grisly videos showing the execution of Western hostages.

Previously, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday U.S. officials were still assessing the strike that targeted “Jihadi John,” but he said the operation showed the group’s days were numbered.

“The coalition forces conducted an air strike targeting...Jihadi John,” whose real name is Mohammed Emwazi, he said on a visit to Tunis.

“We are still assessing the results of this strike but the terrorists associated with Daesh need to know this: Your days are numbered and you will defeated,” said Kerry, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

“There is no future, no path forward” for ISIS, the secretary of state said.

The United States on Thursday carried out an air strike in Syria targeting Emwazi who participated in gruesome videos showing the killings of American and British hostages, officials said.

Emwazi, a London computer programmer, was born in Kuwait to a stateless family of Iraqi origin. His parents moved to Britain in 1993 after their hopes of obtaining Kuwaiti citizenship were quashed.

It is not yet known what whether Emwazi’s was killed or not as a result of the air strike.

Wife of Croatian victim

Meanwhile, the wife of a British hostage killed by “Jihadi John” said Friday his death would mean “one monster less” but she wished he had been captured alive.

“I have heard the news but it doesn’t bring me any comfort because nothing will bring back my husband,” said Dragana Prodanovic Haines, the Croatian wife of aid worker David Haines who was kidnapped by ISIS and killed last year.

“I regret that he was not captured alive but at least he will not kill any more people,” she told AFP by phone from Croatia, where she lives with her five-year-old daughter.

‘Jihadi John’ neighbors

Neighbors of Mohammed Emwazi expressed disbelief Friday over the quiet young man’s transformation into a ruthless ISIS militant.

The last known address for the militant and his family before he left for Syria in 2013 is an unassuming, modern, red-brick block of 12 apartments in North Kensington, a residential area of west London.

“If it’s really him (who’s) been executing people with no mercy, no humanity, he deserves it, but really, he should have been captured,” said a 47-year-old man who gave his name as James.

“He might have some information that we need for the safety of the country,” he said, adding: “I hope they will get all of these terrorists.”

An elderly male neighbor, who declined to give his name, voiced surprise at Friday's news about Emwazi.

“When they were there, I saw them coming in and out but I don’t know when they moved out. I didn’t know them,” he said.

“I was shocked to hear the news. But what can you do? That’s life.”

The Emwazis’ old four-bedroom flat is now occupied by foreign students and young people, who still occasionally receive water bills addressed to them.

Some of the neighbours still remember seeing him around -- and cannot comprehend how he became “Jihadi John.”

“Why did he do that? They say he’s a very intelligent boy. How did he turn evil?” James said.

“I can’t believe someone comes to western Europe, where you don’t see guns and stabbing people -- how did he turn into a monster?”

James suggested Emwazi was not always prone to violence, having witnessed him standing by as his brother was involved in a fight outside.

“He was strange, he stood about and allowed them to fight,” said James, who would sometimes see Emwazi out on a bicycle wearing traditional Islamic dress.

“I said: ‘Why did you allow your brother to get beaten? Why didn’t you do something?’ He said to me, ‘Not bothered’. He stood about just watching.”

(With AFP, Reuters)