How did Mohammed Emwazi become ‘Jihadi John’?

A day after the U.S. arrest of three men attempting to join the Islamic State, officials identified the man known as “Jihadi John,” an IS militant who has been seen in brutal videos executing hostages. What motivated Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen, to embrace extremism? Judy Woodruff talks to Peter Neumann of King's College London about Westerners who may be drawn to terrorism.

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    To help fill in both stories, I'm joined Peter Neumann. He's director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College in London.

    Peter Neumann, welcome back to the NewsHour.

    Is there any doubt that this man is the man in those terrible videos?

  • PETER NEUMANN, King’s College London:

    I don't have any doubts. I think confirmations have come from different angles.

    And I read today that a member of the U.S. intelligence services, even though he didn't want to be named, confirmed the identity. So I'm pretty certain it is the man.


    What is it about him that you see and his journey from being born in Kuwait, moving to London? What is it about that journey that stands out to you that may be distinctive or like what you have seen happen to others who have become radicalized?


    So there's a lot of pieces of the puzzle that we do not have yet. It's certainly not unusual for someone from a fairly middle-class background who went to university to become radicalized. It is a fallacy to think that you necessarily have to be poor and uneducated to become attracted to that kind of ideology.

    What we often observe with people like that is that wherever they come from, they do not feel that they have a stake in their society, and that they have conflicts of identity that do not automatically turn them into terrorists, but that make them receptive for the sort of black-and-white message that comes from extremists, the sort of message that says, you do not have a stake in this society because you do not belong to that society. You have to pick. Are you British or a Muslim? You cannot be British and Muslim at the same time.

    I think, in the case of this particular individual, that may have happened too at the university where he was going, which is known to have been a university where radical groups were active.


    There was also — there seemed to be a suggestion that — from the information coming out of London that he — that he had been harassed by British intelligence, and that maybe this was something that pushed him over the edge. How do you see that?


    Well, I think this is an argument that has been put forward by a group called CAGE. CAGE is calling itself a human rights group, but it is quite controversial, because it essentially always tries to portray people who have become involved in terrorism offenses as victims.

    And, again, I think they are confusing cause and effect. The reason why he was harassed by the security services is because even before the Syria conflict started, he tried to go to East Africa and join Al-Shabaab. So, if you want, the harassment of the security services was an outcome, it wasn't the cause of his radicalization.

    What I'm really interested in is what happened in the years before he went to East Africa, because that is his real radicalization.


    Peter Neumann, now let me ask you about these two men in Brooklyn who — one who was Uzbek. The other one was Kazakh in background.

    They were involved in Internet chat rooms. What do you see about their background that helps us understand what happened here?


    It's very difficult.

    I mean, we would consider them — in our research, we would consider them to be so-called fanboys. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the Internet who are making supportive statements of — in favor of ISIS. And they were unlucky, from their point of view, in the sense that the FBI picked up on them and involved them in a so-called sting operation.

    We do not know what would have happened to them had the FBI not picked them up. What's really difficult, though, in defense of the FBI, is, because there are so many people out there, it is very, very difficult to distinguish which ones of these people on the Internet are just talking and which ones are actually ready to pack their bags and go to Syria.

    We have seen evidence of both, and I guess, in this particular case, the FBI didn't want to take a chance.


    Peter Neumann with King's College in London, we thank you for being with us again.


    Thank you, Judy.

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