The New York Times Reports: The Pentagon said on Friday that it is "reasonably certain" that an American airstrike killed Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State’s most notorious executioner.
Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the American-led coalition fighting the militant group, told reporters at a news briefing that the airstrike on Thursday took place near the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. He said the Pentagon was still seeking final verification that Mr. Emwazi, a 27-year-old British citizen who became known as Jihadi John, was killed in the strike.
On Friday, a senior official with the United States military said it had used a Reaper drone armed with Hellfire missiles to attack a car in which Mr. Emwazi and another militant were thought to be traveling. "We think we got him," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.
Calling the Islamic State an "evil terrorist death cult, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain defended the decision to target Mr. Emwazi, who was born in Kuwait and is a naturalized British citizen, as "an act of self-defense" and "the right thing to do."
"We have been working, with the United States, literally around the clock to track him down," Mr. Cameron said in London. "This was a combined effort, and the contribution of both our countries was essential. Emwazi is a barbaric murderer."
Using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS, Mr. Cameron added, "He was ISIL’s lead executioner, and let us never forget that he killed many, many Muslims, too."
At a news conference in Tunis, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the airstrike should serve as a warning.
"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 be defeated," Mr. Kerry said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. "There is no future, no path forward for Daesh, which does not lead ultimately to its elimination, to its destruction."
Civil liberties advocates have criticized any official British attempt to kill Mr. Emwazi as possibly unlawful, in a debate that paralleled the criticism over the Obama administration’s decision to target and kill Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and a United States citizen, in Yemen in 2011.
Mr. Emwazi, who was first known only as an unidentified, masked man with a British accent, first came to prominence in August 2014, when the Islamic State released a video in which the journalist James Foley was shown reading a statement criticizing President Obama and the American military operation against the Islamic State in Iraq. His captor then beheaded him off camera and then threatened to behead another journalist, Steven J. Sotloff, if his demands were not met.
Two weeks later, the Islamic State released a video showing the masked man beheading Mr. Sotloff.
The Washington Post revealed Mr. Emwazi’s identity in February, reporting that he grew up in a well-off family that moved to Britain when he was a child, and that he had studied computer science at the University of Westminster. The revelation touched off intense examination of the causes of radicalization among Muslim immigrants in Europe.
Mr. Emwazi was part of a group of network of friends, called the "North London Boys" by some intelligence analysts, who prayed at the same mosque and became captivated by an Egyptian-born cleric, Hani al-Sibai. Mr. Sibai is thought to have close links to the Tunisian branch of Ansar al-Shariah, a Salafist group that has been linked to a deadly attack in June on tourists in Tunisia.
The leader of this network was Bilal al-Berjawi, who was stripped of his British citizenship in 2011 after he went to Somalia to join the Islamist group known as the Shabab, and was killed by an American drone strike the next year. That same year, Mohamed Sakr, another friend, was also killed by a drone strike in Somalia.
British officials have said that Mr. Emwazi was on a list of potential terror suspects since 2009, but that they were unable to prevent him from traveling to Syria in 2013.
Mr. Foley’s parents, John and Diane Foley, said they were not comforted by the news of the attack. "If only so much effort had been given to rescuing Jim and the other hostages who were subsequently murdered by ISIS, they might be alive today," they said in a statement.
Reg Henning, the brother of the British aid worker Alan Henning, one of Mr. Emwazi’s victims, told the BBC, "I was glad to hear he had been killed, but I would have preferred him to have been brought to justice." A trial, he added, might have “dragged on for months and months."
Bethany Haines, the daughter of another victim, David Cawthorne Haines, said she felt "an instant sense of relief" in learning about the attack, because it meant "he wouldn’t appear in anymore horrific videos."
Mr. Cameron praised the American decision to target Mr. Emwazi, saying: "The United Kingdom has no better friend or ally."
He added, "If this strike was successful — and we still await confirmation of that — it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL, and it will demonstrate to those who would do Britain, our people and our allies harm we have a long reach, we have unwavering determination and we never forget about our citizens."
Mr. Emwazi’s other victims were Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, an adventurer, both Japanese, and an American aid worker, Peter Kassig, also known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said that Mr. Emwazi should ideally have faced trial. "It appears Mohammed Emwazi has been held to account for his callous and brutal crimes," Mr. Corbyn said in a statement on Friday. "However, it would have been far better for us all if he had been held to account in a court of law. These events only underline the necessity of accelerating international efforts, under the auspices of the U.N., to bring an end to the Syrian conflict as part of a comprehensive regional settlement."
In August, a British drone strike, its first inside Syria, killed three people suspected of being members of the Islamic State, including two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin.
Britain is not formally taking part in military action in Syria — its Parliament having rejected such an intervention two years ago — but Britain and France are involved in the American-led air campaign against Islamic State targets.
In 2009, after returning from a trip to Africa, Mr. Emwazi contacted Cage, a British advocacy organization, to complain that he had been harassed by British security services.
In a statement on Friday, Cage said that Mr. Emwazi "should have been tried as a war criminal" and expressed concern about the attack aimed at him. "State-sponsored targeted assassinations undercut the judicial processes that provide the lessons by which spirals of violence can be stopped," it said.