Jihadi John May Be Dead After A U.S. Airstrike & His Death, If True, Has Symbolic Significance For ISIS
The symbolic spokesperson of ISIS may have been killed in an airstrike in Syria, according to the Pentagon. Known as "Jihadi John," Mohammed Emwazi appeared in a series of videos purportedly showing the beheading of American journalists, British aid workers, and numerous other hostages. While Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron stated on Friday that Emwazi's death was not yet confirmed, Pentagon officials seemed confident of the Thursday strike. But knowing ISIS, who have been as savvy as they are ruthless, the terror organization already has a second-in-command lined up should anything like this happen. If Emwazi is confirmed dead, who will replace Jihadi John in ISIS?
The coalition airstrike against Emwazi was a combined effort between the U.S. and the U.K., who launched the attack on Thursday in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, where ISIS has a stronghold. Cameron described the attack against Emwazi, whom he calls a "barbaric murderer," an "act of self-defense." Though one U.S. military official told the BBC that there was a "high degree of certainty" over Emwazi's death, Kerry confirmed at a press conference in Tunis, Tunisia on Friday that the success of the strike was still unclear. He also delivered a much more assertive message to the terror group:
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.
Cameron echoed the sentiment in a separate news conference from London, saying that killing Emwazi would be "a strike at the heart" of ISIS.
Indeed, Emwazi's death could cause a significant shakeup within ISIS. The 27-year-old Kuwaiti-born British citizen has been the face and mouthpiece of ISIS, consistently appearing in the group's sadistic beheading videos, which they have used to spread their message and recruit new members. The masked militant, speaking English with a British accent, has essentially served as the symbolic leader, or at least lead executioner, of ISIS. Even though ISIS is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, most people associate the terror organization with Jihadi John's infamous masked image. His death could deal a significant blow to ISIS's morale and propaganda, weakening its image for potential new recruits vulnerable to radicalization.
So what action would ISIS take should Emwazi be killed? According to British security consultant Simon Palombi, who spoke to NBC News, his death could lead to a policy change within the group.
They will have to be more careful about where they are showing their faces in public.
However, as always, the coalition should not underestimate ISIS and lose focus with just one victory.
They will likely find someone else to replace him. The blow to morale will likely be short-lived.