27 February 2015
Last updated at 16:03
Mohammed Emwazi pictured as a young boy and as IS militant “Jihadi John”
The prime minister has defended the security services amid criticisms they failed to stop Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John'”, from joining Islamic State in Syria.
David Cameron said the security services made “incredibly difficult judgements” on the UK’s behalf.
His comments came after it emerged Emwazi was known to authorities.
The PM said he would not comment on specific cases but urged the public to back the security services.
The masked Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John”, who has been pictured in the videos of the beheadings of Western hostages, was identified this week as a Kuwaiti-born British man, in his mid-20s and from west London.
Emwazi first appeared in a video last August, when he apparently killed the US journalist James Foley.
He was later thought to have been pictured in the videos of the beheadings of British aid worker David Haines, US journalist Steven Sotloff, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter.
Journalists gathered outside a home in London where Mohammed Emwazi is believed to have once lived
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said MI5 is coming under pressure to explain why its officers spent five years talking to Emwazi before he left the country for Syria.
He said: “I think they’ve certainly got a case to answer here and I’d be very surprised if parliament’s intelligence and security committee doesn’t announce some kind of inquiry to see whether there were any mistakes made.”
The BBC has seen the first official document showing contact between Emwazi and the police.
A letter from the Metropolitan police reveals that officers had a meeting with him in July 2010 to address his “concerns” which are thought to relate to an alleged assault by a police officer at Heathrow Airport.
UK-based advocacy group Cage has suggested that MI5 may have contributed to the radicalisation of Emwazi.
Downing Street said that suggestion was “completely reprehensible”, while London mayor Boris Johnson described Cage’s comments as “an apology for terror”.
Mr Cameron has defended the UK’s security services, praising the work of “these extraordinary men and women”.
He said: “All of the time, they are having to make incredibly difficult judgements and I think basically they make very good judgements on our behalf, and I think whilst we are in the middle of this vast effort to make sure British citizens are safe, the most important thing is to get behind them.”
Mr Cameron went on to say the security services’ “dedication and work has saved us from plots on the streets of the UK that could have done us immense damage” within the last few months.
Emwazi is believed to have lived at this address in west London
Police have been patrolling outside the property
David Cameron praised the security forces for their work
Mr Johnson said it did renew the argument about control orders – a form of house arrest for terrorist suspects – which were abolished by the coalition government in 2012 and replaced with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPims).
“It is vital when you are controlling these people to be able to relocate them, to take them away from their support networks and to monitor them properly,” he said.
“The politicians who made that mistake need to think very carefully about why they did it and I think the benefit of the doubt was given too much to those who wish us serious harm.”
David Anderson, the government’s independent reviewer of terror legislation, said it was difficult not to have sympathy with the security services “when you see just how many cases they have to look at”.
“A lot of people talk a good game when it comes to terrorism. The knack is identifying the few who are going to do something about it.”
Mohammed Emwazi’s movements before heading to Syria
- 1. Aug 2009, refused entry to Tanzania: travels to Tanzania with two friends, but is refused entry at Dar es Salaam. Tanzanian police have denied Emwazi’s name is on their database of suspected foreign criminals detained and deported in 2009, as he had claimed. Emwazi and his friends are put on flight to Amsterdam, where they are questioned. They return to Dover and are questioned again.
- 2. Sept 2009, travels to Kuwait for work: leaves the UK for Kuwait for work.
- 3. May/June 2010, returns to UK for holiday: he returns to the UK for an eight-day visit.
- 4. July 2010, refused re-entry to Kuwait: Emwazi returns to the UK once more for a couple of days. He is stopped at Heathrow on his return to Kuwait and told he cannot travel as his visa has expired.
- 5. 2013, travels to Syria: Emwazi changes his name to Mohammed al-Ayan and attempts to travel to Kuwait but is stopped and questioned. Three days later, he heads abroad. Police later inform his family he has travelled to Syria.
Emwazi has appeared in videos dressed in a black robe with a black balaclava covering all but his eyes and top of his nose.
Speaking with a British accent, he taunted Western powers before holding his knife to the hostages’ necks, appearing to start cutting before the film stopped. The victims’ decapitated bodies were then shown.
Earlier this month, a video in which the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto appeared to be beheaded featured the militant.
Hostages released by IS said he was one of three British jihadists guarding Westerners abducted by the group in Syria.
Families have given mixed reactions to the militant being named, with the mother of Mr Foley saying she forgave Emwazi; while Mr Haines’s daughter, Bethany, said she wanted to see “a bullet between his eyes”.
Emwazi is believed to have travelled to Syria around 2013 and later joined IS, which has declared the creation of a “caliphate” in the large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq it controls.
British police have not commented on the identity of the militant known as “Jihadi John”, citing ongoing inquiries.
Jihadi John sightings
- August 2014: Video in which US journalist James Foley is apparently beheaded
- 2 September 2014: Video in which US journalist Steve Sotloff is apparently beheaded
- 13 September 2014: Video in which British aid worker David Haines is apparently beheaded
- October 2014: Video in which British aid worker Alan Henning is apparently beheaded
- November 2014: Video in which Jihadi John is shown killing a Syrian soldier in a mass beheading, which also shows body of US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter Kassig
- 20 January 2015: Video in which Jihadi John is seen standing alongside two Japanese hostages and demanding a ransom in exchange for their release
- 31 January 2015: Video released appearing to show Jihadi John beheading Japanese hostage Kenji Goto