A masked man who featured prominently in a series of grisly beheading videos released by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was named Thursday as British national Mohammed Emwazi.
Government sources and radicalization experts said they believe the man nicknamed "Jihadi John" by media outlets is Emwazi, a Londoner from a middle-class family who graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. Friends and others familiar with the case confirmed the identity, but police and authorities have yet to go on record with the name.
The Washington Post, which first reported the name, cited a "close friend" as saying Emwazi is the masked, black-clad fighter brandishing a knife and speaking with an English accent in videos on the beheadings of hostages including Americans and Britons.
"I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John," one friend reportedly told the Washington Post. "He was like a brother to me ... I am sure it is him."
The Washington Post cited another friend as saying Emwazi was believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012, and to have later joined ISIL.
The newspaper said said “friends and others familiar with the case” had described Emwazi as “a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming."
Unnamed U.S. and British sources subsequently confirmed their belief that Emwazi was the man in questions, according to Reuters and The Associated Press.
“He was identified by the U.K. and U.S. some months ago,” Robert McFadden, senior vice president of The Soufan Group, told Al Jazeera via email. McFadden added that he was surprised that it took this long for Emwazi’s identity to surface publicly, but that clearly “it would be handled as a sensitive matter by U.K. and U.S. intelligence services in order to put pieces together that answer identity, associates/associations, plans, communications, locations, capabilities and targeting.”
Also cited in the Washington Post article were comments from Asim Qureshi, research director of the London-based rights organization CAGE. The newspaper reported that Qureshi, after seeing one of the widely circulated ISIL videos, said "there was an extremely strong resemblance." Qureshi went on to tell the Washington Post, "this is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person."
But Thursday morning, CAGE issued a news release saying during the interview with the Washington Post, “Qureshi clarified that while there were some striking similarities, that due to the hood, there was no way he could be 100 percent certain" that the individual was Emwazi.
But CAGE’s news release said Emwazi had been “subjected to security agency harassment for at least four years.”
"He was repeatedly detained at airports, deported, barred from entering countries and even allegedly assaulted by officers. This treatment prevented him from leading a normal life while having no means to obtain redress, even though no evidence was ever presented to suggest he committed any wrongdoing," the release read.
Hostages had given the man the name "John" as he and other British-born fighters had been nicknamed “the Beatles.” The Washington Post said he had been born in Kuwait, was raised in a middle-class neighborhood in London and occasionally prayed at a mosque in Greenwich in southeast London.
Police declined to comment on the reports.
"We are not going to confirm the identity of anyone at this stage or give an update on the progress of this live counter-terrorism investigation," Cmdr. Richard Walton of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command said in a statement.
The Washington Post quoted friends of Emwazi as saying on condition of anonymity that they thought he had started to become radicalized after a planned safari in Tanzania following his graduation from the University of Westminster in London.
The sources reportedly said Emwazi and two friends — a German convert to Islam named Omar and another man, Abu Talib — never made it to the safari. On landing in Dar es Salaam in May 2009, they were detained by police and held overnight before eventually being deported, they said.
“A Mohammed Emwazi left the University six years ago," a spokesperson from the University of Westminster told Al Jazeera via email. "If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families."
“We have students from 150 countries and their safety is of paramount concern. With other universities in London, we are working to implement the Government’s Prevent strategy to tackle extremism," it added.
The Post said counterterrorism officials in Britain detained Emwazi in 2010, fingerprinting him and searching his belongings.
Al Jazeera and wire services