Since its appearance, ISIL has terrorized Iraq and Syria with its extremist acts of violence; many have lost their lives and families over the few past years as this extremist group is spreading like wildfire thorough the region. This film is about a young man from west London, namely Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John, who ended up as an ISIL executioner. What happened to him? Why did he abandon his life in the UK to become a professional killer? This film will take you to an investigative journey in a bid to find out the reasons behind Emwazi’s decisions.
SOUNDBITE [English], Mohammad Emwazi as “Jihadi John : “This British man has to pay the price for your promise Cameron to on the against the Islamic State”
Narration: He has become the face of ISIL beheadings. A face – covered - that had not been seen. The knife wielding executioner. Who was British. But who was the British man behind the mask? Nobody knew…until the 26th February 2015.
SOUNDBITE [English] Sky news bulletin with breaking news: “Got some breaking news to bring you now really Islamic State executioner known as Jihadi John has been identified by the Washington post he has been named as Mohammed Emwazi from West London”
Narration: Suddenly he had a name. And he lived in West London.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “This is the road Mohamed Emwazi lived with his family. He was born in Kuwait, but moved to the UK aged only six. He grew up here, went to school here, had friends here. But two years ago, aged just 24, he fled to go and fight in Syria. A year later those notorious beheading videos began emerging online. So, what happened to Mohamed Emwazi, for him to go from a young British man to the ISIL executioner we see today.”
Narration: We know that Mohamed Emwazi went to this school in North West London. Then head teacher of the Quintin Kynaston Academy says she never suspected that the reasonably hardworking pupil would become the man we know him to be today.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “When, the media identified Mohammed Emwazi, like other journalists across the country, and across the world, I started searching for information about him. Within hours I was put in touch with one of his close friends from high school. I have been in touch with this friend, in the hope he will speak to us on camera. He is simply is too concerned to do so. But has agreed to talk to me on-the-record if I hide his identify.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Mohammed ‘s friend: “Mohammed was pretty much a normal kid until about year 9, when he was about 14years old. Then he started isolating himself. He would hang around with his younger brother mostly – I know his brother is in Syria now too. Sometimes they would say crazy things, but we didn’t really pay it any attention. I don’t know where they got some of their views from, it wasn’t from school, there wasn’t a group of them at school or anything like that – even the muslim kids thought he could be a bit out there. It was definitely from outside. Whatever he started being interested in.”
Narration: After high school, Mohamed Emawzi went on to university, where he got a degree in computing in 2009. That summer, he travelled to Tanzania, but on arrival he was refused entry. He was put on flight to Amsterdam and is said to have been questioned by MI5. First on suspicion of wanting to fight for AL Shabab in Somalia – then in an attempt to recruit him as an agent. When Mohamed denied and declined he was returned to the UK. The following month he travelled again to Kuwait to stay with his father’s family. This time he was allowed in. He stayed there for 10 months, got engaged and made only one brief trip back to the UK in the meantime. The second time he returned to the UK in July 2010 he was told he couldn’t return back to Kuwait because his visa had been denied. Within 3 years he had fled to Syria.
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “Throughout this period, it is claimed that British intelligence services continuously approached Mohammed Emwazi. He called it harassment and he approached well known advocacy group Cage to make formal complaints. Cage were in communication with Emwazi for two years. They spoke to the Washington Post reporter who heavily quoted them in the article revealing Emwazi’s identity.”
Narration: When the story was published Cage held a press conference that was broadcast live across British television. Cage’s research director Asim Qureshi said he had been misquoted. He also talked about the Mohammed Emwazi he had met.
SOUNDBITE [English], Cage Presser: “You might be surprised to know that the Mohammad I knew was extremely kind extremely gentle extremely soft spoke with was the most humble person that i knew. so this is why when I am asked is the person that you see on those videos the same as the person you remember Mohammad it is difficult for me to say that yes these two people are exactly the same because there is one character and person young kind person I remember and I see that image there doesn't seem to be a correlation between the two and I want to clarify that the Washington post recorded my comments incorrectly while I think that there are some striking similarities between the person I remember and the person we seen we I can't be hundred percent certain that guy has got a hood on his head, it’s very very difficult.”
Narration: In the one hour press conference Qureshi went on to detail how MI5 had hounded and continuously harassed Emwazi in the years leading up to his fleeing to Syria. He questioned the intelligence services role in Emwazi’s radicalization. But it was one – unrelated - comment he made– which was immediately splashed across the headlines.
SOUNDBITE [English] Cage Presser: “He was such a beautiful young man it is hard to imagine the trajectory but it's not a trajectory that is unfamiliar for us”
Narration: His describing of Emwazi as a beautiful man was slammed in the British media, and cage were accused of being appologists for extremism. 6 weeks on I’ve come to a Cage event on Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to talk to Asim Qureshi about his comments.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “How do you reflect on that initiate action to cage’s press conference that day Mohamed Emwazi’s name was announced?”
SOUNDBITE [English] Asim Qureshi, Director of CAGE: “We said everything we wanted to in the press conference. The misrepresentation was calculated. It wasn't the case that we said something that we felt was wrong. In fact I standby everything I said in the conference. the man that I knew once upon a time was a decent person as far as I could tell. what happened to him after I don't recognize that other human being or that other person or who has become so I can't change what I said what I would say is think about the media the role of the media play in purposefully misconstruing what people say. At no point did I say that what he's doing right now is okay quite the contrary I am completely against anybody anywhere being executed whether it is by Isis or whoever else”
Narration: It’s a complaint that many Muslims make of the British Media. That their voice is either dismissed, or misrepresented. They are often unhappy about who is given a platform to represent them in the media. Ceri Bullivant of cage ended up walk off live on air, in protest of an interview conducted by Sky New’s Kay Burley.
SOUNDBITE [English] Kay Burley: “Let me ask you straight off the bat what level of harassment by the security services by the United Kingdom justifies beheading”
Narration: Many viewers took to social media to vent their anger, at her line of questioning, which they saw as incessantly undermining and patronizing Bullivant.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [English] Kay Burley: “How do you feel about the beheadings?”
SOUNDBITE [English] Ceri Bullivant: “I am appalled that you would ask me that question”
SOUNDBITE [English] Kay Burley: “Don't be appalled just answer the….”
SOUNDBITE [English] Ceri Bullivant: “your question is inherently Islamiphobic phobic and racist.- nonsense get over yourself”
SOUNDBITE [English] Kay Burley: “Do you condemn his actions?”
SOUNDBITE [English] Ceri Bullivant: “I've already said and so I'm sorry I'm not going to answer that question.”
Narration: I’ve met with Ceri Bullivant to ask him what he made of his Sky news grilling
SOUNDBITE [English] Ceri Bullivant, Spokesperson of CAGE: “They did their classic move and moved to oversimplification straight away. They jumped on Asim's comments about a beautiful man and lost all of the nuance of what we were trying to say. the point we were making is how did he go from what Asim described as a beautiful man to a murderer and how did that journey happen and how do we cut that journey off and stop it from happening again so that we're all safe. all of that Nuance was lost and they just want to jump on Cage, and jump on Asim and myself on a personal level and call us apologist and Jihadi apologists which is ridiculous we have been speaking out against these people long before the British government even knew who they were.”
Narration: It’s not the first time that the British media or British authorities have jumped on an individual in this manner. In fact there would be a long list of Muslims who would make the same allegation, that personal smears are used to sideline the important points being made. Other times, blunders become more serious. And even academics in Britain have suffered.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “I’ve come to the north of England, to Edge Hill university in Lancashire to meet Rizwaa Sabir, academic, lecturer and expert in counter terrorism. He also has very person firsthand experience of how the police and the intelligence agencies can get it so very wrong.”
Narration: In 2008 Dr. Sabir was arrested and held for seven days after downloading the al-Qaeda training manual as part of his university research into terrorist tactics. Ultimately he received £20,000 compensation and an apology from the police for being stopped and searched.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “Your story was very high profile can you tell me about how you've passed the reflected in doubt with that period.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Rizwan Sabir, Academic and Counter-terror Expert: “My experience teaches me that we need to as the government and as a society invest more in the mechanisms of accountability that exist to ensure that people are not becoming attracted to alternative forms of justice or accountability for example violence and that they feel confident to use the system that currently stands in order to make sure any wrong that they have encountered can be dealt with and can be challenged in an appropriate way.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “How do you evaluate the role of the intelligence services in the radicalisation in this journey of Mohammed Emwazi.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Rizwan Sabir, Academic and Counter-terror Expert: “Britain security services MI5 in this case have a series of questions that need to be answered and I think that they need to go back to the drawing board they need to reassess the methods that they are using because I think it can be said with some certainty that the methods and approaches that they have used specifically in the case of Mohammad Emwazi have played a contributing factor to him becoming to Jihadi John and Isis chief executioner.”
Narration: Dr Sabir says the factors leading to someone joining a group like ISIL can be broken down in to four categories; Social, economic, political and religious or ideological. Focusing on just one factor in isolation will not give the whole story, but ignoring a factor – like the role of the intelligence services – won’t paint a full picture either. Former counter-terrorism officer Charles Shoebridge agrees that questions need to be raised about the role of the intelligence services.
SOUNDBITE [English] Charles Shoebridge,Intelligence and Terrorism Expert: “I think it would be very simple and very simplistic to suggest that because somebody is approached by the security services to work for them that this in itself can turn you into an extremist. I mean there are a number of ways of attacking that proposition for example the fact that he has been approached in the first place is an obvious indication that he is already involved in extremism otherwise it would be a total waste of time for the security services to approach him. having said that I do think cage have a point and they make it clear that he was approached again and again and again and harassed to such a degree that one can almost visualise the effect on his mental health taking place over that period of time”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
Narration: Shoebridge says this harassment and effect on Emwazi’s mental health could well have exacerbated his road to extremism. And that the hand fisted approach that MI5 often use is counterproductive. But he also broadens out the discussion. Not just about what MI5 have done – but also about what they haven’t done. They stopped Mohammed Emwazi going to Kuwait –why didn’t they stop him from going to Syria?
SOUNDBITE [English] Charles Shoebridge, Intelligence and Terrorism Expert: “They don't appear to have stopped anybody from going to these places and of course that begs the question well why didn't they stop anybody at all and that comes to issues of policy and higher considerations. From the west foreign policy perspective especially the foreign policies of Britain and America, where in order to destabilize those countries of course rebellions have been supported with very little consideration of what the outcome of that will be other than the toppling of the target regime. In those kind of fields the people for example in the building behind me here MI6. people would say now well MI6 are to do with counterterrorism would never be encouraging rebellion of other countries this really goes against the idea of MI6 is for it is for the furtherance of British foreign policy and British national interest what is the job. The problem is that it has long been recognized that there is a problem or danger of blowback and that is where people just down the river or the road at MI5 start to worry because their job is not the furtherance of British foreign policy it is at least outwardly their main job is the protection of Britain from external threats such as terrorism and internal threats from terrorism.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Rizwan Sabir, Academic and Counter-terror Expert: “A lot of this is politically motivated so what we essentially have is if we want to intervene in the affairs of another nation state we need to create a narrative at home in which the enemy is constructed, you critique and point the finger at that Enemy to justify what you are doing abroad so if we are against a group of people in a foreign land somewhere for example Iraq we have to claim and we have to show somehow that the opponent is not only limited to Iraq but also is here at home and we need to challenge the opponent here at home and also abroad.”
Narration: It’s not the first time this “politically motivated” policy has been used. In the recent history leading up to today’s climate, the creation of the Taleban in the 1970s, their fight against the soviets, the AL Qaeda off shoot, 9-11, the war on Afghanistan, the war on Iraq, and the counter-insurgencies that branched off from there. To the creation of the group that we know as ISIL today. These policies seemed to have been tried, tested, and repeatedly failed – or have they?
SOUNDBITE [English] Charles Shoebridge, Intelligence and Terrorism Expert: “Received wisdom is that these policies have failed yet these policies are repeatedly put into practice and that would suggest. To any logical rational thinker that actually the aim must be this failure because otherwise unless our intelligence services and our diplomats are incredibly stupid and actually we are not suggesting that that is the case then they are repeating the same process time and again because they are actually producing the results desired which isn't to introduce democracy or secularism to these countries but just to destabilize them as long as possible to remove them as threats or enemies.”
Narration: What the creation of that enemy does of course, is marginalizing those who have been demonized, and create misplaced hate towards them. What is left, is groups of people – filled with hate of each other.
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “It’s Friday prayers at Britain’s biggest mosque. Anjem Choudary, probably Britain’s most well known “Radical Muslim” has taken the opportunity to protest – calling on Muslims not to vote in the election. The response – Britain first and the edl – are cursing Islam on the opposite side of the street.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_24:00
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “How far is it from the rhetoric that is happening here to a Mohammed Emwazi there is a road that takes place in Britain fro A-B……..”
SOUNDBITE [English] Anjem Choudery, Radical Choudary: “Saying that there are stories of beheadings in Islam, and although that doesn’t justify it, people need to know their deem.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Nargess Moballeghi, Host: “If there is elitism in thinking the minority are right and the majority of Muslims are wrong.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Anjem Choudery, Radical Choudary: “The minority are on the haq.”
Narration: It’s clear how this kind of dangerous rhetoric marginalizes - if you state that only the minority are on the haq – or truth – then the majority – whether Muslim or not - can easily be dismissed. There’s no space for toleration. Britain first and the EDL across the road - believe all Muslims are like this. But just standing a few minutes here, by Anjem Choudary’s supporters it’s clear that is not the case
SOUNDBITE [English] The mosque goer : “Both of them are two sides of one queen which is extremism both of them and both of them are creating conflict and this tiny group or hijacking the religion and the other ones are attacking the religion and both of them and ignore it because they don't know that every Muslim is a terrorist the other ones and this guys have no knowledge of religion and they are tainting the image of Islam as a terrorist religion that's what that they are doing”
Narration: While Anjem Choudary and his followers would deny these claims many Muslims believe that viewpoints like theirs can easily play a part in young British Muslims being marginalized in to extremism. When someone has become so disenfranchised by the system they live in, alternatives that may have been extreme yesterday, may start seeming like the rational choice today.
SOUNDBITE [English] Asim Qureshi, Director at CAGE: “We live in an environment right now that any form of descent is being shut down completely because the government has centralised so much power to itself in this counterterrorism paradigm that it is almost impossible for people to actually advocate on their own behalf without feeling like they're doing something wrong. one of the things I have a problem with is this cultural stuff criminalization that is taking place but it is precisely that which makes people feel that they are disenfranchised which makes them feel they do not have a voice and ultimately makes them feel they have been pushed out of society.”
Narration: The reality seems to be there was no one single factor that created Mohammed Emwazi – although there very clearly could have been a tipping point – and the harassment by MI5 could have been exactly that. He was a young man that grew up in Britain, at a time where it has become increasingly difficult for Muslims. At a time, when some Muslims have become increasingly extreme. And at a time where the reasons for that extremism are not fully being analyzed. If you discuss them, you may be called an extremist yourself. If we don’t then that leaves the extremism to fester – in ways that may very well create another Mohammed Emwazi tomorrow.