See update below the original post.
In September, the FBI said that authorities had identified the ISIS social media content producer/murderer known as “Jihadi John,” but declined to make that information public. On Thursday morning, however, The Washington Postbroke the news that, according to multiple sources, the man who has starred in several videos depicting the beheadings of Western hostages is a London-raised, Kuwaiti-born computer nerd named Mohammed Emwazi:
The world knows him as “Jihadi John,” the masked man with a British accent who has beheaded several hostages held by the Islamic State and who taunts audiences in videos circulated widely online.
But his real name, according to friends and others familiar with his case, is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. He is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined the Islamic State, the group whose barbarity he has come to symbolize.
U.S. officials declined to comment for the WaPo report, but here’s an interesting coincidence. On Wednesday, President Obama had a tight travel schedule to Miami, where he participated in an immigration town hall moderated by Jose Diaz-Balart. Then, the White House sent out an update, moving the president’s departure from Miami up by 45 minutes, and had him lifting off barely 20 minutes after he left the stage. At first, I thought it might have something to do with a deal on DHS funding, but White House officials, while still cautiously optimistic about a deal, said there was nothing concrete like that in the works.
I spent the rest of the day trying to find out why the president’s schedule was changed, and while White House officials pooh-poohed the idea that anything top secret was in the works, they also acknowledged that they absolutely would not tell me if something top secret was in the works. Others pointed out that there’s very little that the president can’t do from the confines of Air Force One. Still, even as the president was taking off from Miami, the White House could offer no explanation for the schedule change, not even something simple and plausible, like the weather.
Then, this morning, The Washington Post outs Mohammed Emwazi as “Jihadi John,” just one of many ISassholes who need to get got, but also a major propaganda target. Maybe just a coincidence, but there is one thing I can think of that the president would want to do in person, rather than via teleconference from a plane. I’m just saying. The revelation of what the FBI presumably already knew steps up whatever timetable there might have been on taking this guy out. Don’t buy any green bananas, is all I’m saying.
Update: At Thursday’s White House daily briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined multiple opportunities to confirm or deny the WaPo report, or whether the report was harmful or helpful to the effort to bring him to justice, but did point out that reporters could draw inferences from the fact that the law enforcement community has, thus far, found it advantageous to keep Jihadi John’s identity, which they have known since at least September, from public view. I asked Earnest what value the White House places on “Jihadi John” as a target, and while he began by emphasizing thr importance of bringing all terrorists to justice, he delivered this assessment of the ISIS murderer when pressed:
“In the mind of the President, he ranks high on the list because that individual is responsible for the murder of innocent Americans, and the President’s determined to bring him to justice.”
No green bananas, I’m just saying.
Full transcript of my question, and Earnest’s response:
Tommy Christopher: Thanks, Josh. I have three quick questions for you. First one, on Jihadi John, can you explain what value you would put on Jihadi John as a target?
Josh Earnest: That’s not —
Tommy Christopher: Obviously, he’s a symbolic —
Josh Earnest: Yes. We remain committed to making sure that the individuals who are responsible for the murder of American citizens are brought to justice. And that makes any individual who is responsible for killing Americans a valuable target. And the President has and will continue to devote significant resources to bringing those individuals to justice.
Tommy Christopher: So there’s no special attention for him?
Josh Earnest: Well, again, you’d have to talk to the Department of Justice as they conduct this investigation if you wanted a sort of assessment of where he ranks on the list. But in the mind of the President, he ranks highly on the list because that individual is responsible for the murder of innocent Americans, and the President is determined to bring them to justice.
Update: Later in the day, President Obama weighed in during an interview with local Seattle reporter Eric Johnson of KOMO. He stuck more closely to the first part of Earnest’s response:
“Look, any time any American is harmed anywhere in the world, the United States government is going to be going after that person. I’m not going to comment on this particular case.”