A British-accented militant who has appeared in beheading videos released by the Islamic State group in Syria bears “striking similarities” to a man who grew up in London, a Muslim lobbying group said Thursday.
Mohammed Emwazi has been identified by news organizations as the masked militant more commonly known as “Jihadi John.”
London-based CAGE, which works with Muslims in conflict with British intelligence services, said Thursday its research director, Asim Qureshi, saw strong similarities, but because of the hood worn by the militant, “there was no way he could be 100 percent certain.”
The Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College London, which closely tracks fighters in Syria, also said it believed the identification was correct.
British counterterrorism officials wouldn’t confirm the man’s identity.
“Jihadi John” appeared in a video released in August showing the slaying of American journalist James Foley. A man with similar stature and voice also featured in videos of the killings of American journalist Steven Sotloff, Britons David Haines and Alan Hemming and U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
According to The Washington Post and the BBC, Emwazi was born in Kuwait, grew up in west London and studied computer programming at the University of Westminster. The university confirmed that a student of that name graduated in 2009.
“If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news,” the university said in a statement.
The news outlets said Emwazi had been known to Britain’s intelligence services before he traveled to Syria in 2012.
CAGE said it has been in contact with Emwazi for more than two years after he accused British intelligence services of harassing him. It said that in 2010 he alleged British spies were preventing him from traveling to the country of his birth, Kuwait, where he planned to marry.
No one answered the door at the brick row house in west London where the Emwazi family is alleged to have lived. Neighbors in the surrounding area of public housing projects either declined comment or said they didn’t know the family.
Neighbor Janine Kintenda, 47, who said she’d lived in the area for 16 years, was shocked at the news.
“Oh my God,” she said, lifting her hand to her mouth. “This is bad. This is bad.”
Shiraz Maher of the King’s College radicalization center said he was investigating whether Emwazi was among a group of young West Londoners who traveled to Syria in about 2012.
Many of them are now dead, including Mohammad el-Araj, Ibrahim al-Mazwagi and Choukri Ellekhlifi, all killed in 2013.
He said Emwazi’s background was similar to that of other British jihadis, and disproved the idea “that these guys are all impoverished, that they’re coming from deprived backgrounds.”
“They are by and large upwardly mobile people, well educated,” he said.