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Jihadi John's death

Bruce KonviserJanuary 20, 2016

The "Islamic State" terror group has confirmed the death of notorious extremist Jihadi John. It's a propganda win for the West, but the civil war in Syria continues unabated.

IS terroris Jihadi John, aka, Mohammed Emwaziholds up a large hunting knife, while his face, except for his eyes, is covered by a balaclava
Image: SITE Intel Group/Handout via Reuters

His actions, his image and his nickname came to personify western fears of Islamic extremism – an ethnic Arab with a European Union passport who went to the Middle East to wage Jihad, or holy war.

He gained the world's attention after appearing in a series of gruesome Islamic State videos during the summer and fall of 2014. The videos typically ended with the decapitation of a western hostage - usually a journalist or an aid worker.

His British accent, his eyes and his hands – the only parts of his body not covered before the video cameras - gave western intelligence faint clues as to his identity. But it was enough for one British politician to refer to the man who came to be known as Jihadi John as "a dead man walking."

@dwnews - Jihadi John online reactions

Indeed, IS has just affirmed the death of Jihadi John, just as US and British governments claimed 10 weeks ago. Otherwise known as Mohammed Emwazi, the British citizen, born in Kuwait, to Iraqi parents of the bedoon tribe, was killed in November by a drone-fired missile in al-Raqqah, which currently serves as the Islamic State's capital in northern Syria.

Outraged, and in the case of the British government also embarrassed, Washington and London invested a great deal of energy identifying and tracking down Emwazi.

His death is certain to provide an element of comfort for both the US and UK governments, but militarily his death is of limited value, according to Rem Korteweg, a security and defense expert at the Center for European Reform in London.

"Militarily it won't make a difference on the ground in Syria and Iraq," he said. "(Emwazi) was a spokesman, he wasn't a senior commander."

But that doesn't mean Emwazi's death was without merit, according to Korteweg.

Jihadi John screenshot from YouTube
Emwazi, aka Jihadi John, shown here and above.Image: YouTube/The Telegraph/SmashTV

"It is significant because of the fact he fulfilled an important role as a propaganda tool for ISIS,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State. “He helped to sow fear in the West."

The propaganda war

In the battle of ideas the combination of Emwazi's religion (Muslim) and his citizenship (British) made him both a lure for IS, and a target for the West.

There are plenty of Muslims, born and raised in the Middle East, who could serve as spokesmen for IS. But Korteweg said it was Emwazi's western passport that enabled him to snare such a high profile position with the terrorist group.

"He got his role because he was British," Korteweg said, "because he could bridge this gap – to find western born Jihadists."

And, "To provoke the West," he added.

Of course, Emwazi has already been replaced by another militant muslim from Britain – Abu Rumaysah.

Although Rumaysah has not participated in the types of horrific videos of his predecessor, Korteweg said, “He talks about how Sharia law should spread across the world.”

That, and his British passport, already makes him a target for a western drone strike, according to Korteweg.

"I think this guy is definitely, a target, no question," he said. "If you get to them quickly it becomes clear there's a bulls-eye on their back."

And the hope is that this will deter other Europeans from taking up high-profile propaganda positions.

Thomas Joscelyn, a counter-terrorism expert for the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, agreed that Emwazi's death has no military significance but is a win for the West on the propaganda front.

"You can't allow him to exist because it creates this aura around him," Joscelyn said.

And while he agreed that Rumaysah is already in the West's crosshairs, he said the urgency is less as long as he keeps a low profile.

As for the war itself, Joscelyn said there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.

"It's a very complex war with multiple sides, and even factions within those sides," he said. "I don't see how you bring about a diplomatic resolution when so many participants aren't interested in peace."