“I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London," Mohammed Emwazi wrote in a 2010 e-mail to a friend. Five years later, as The Washington Post reported, Emwazi was revealed to be "Jihadi John," the Islamic State executioner who has beheaded multiple hostages in a series of widely circulated Islamic State propaganda videos.
While Emwazi was born in Kuwait, his middle-class background and academic success—he reportedly graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in computer programming—position him within a seemingly counterintuitive frame for a foreign ISIS recruit. As Karen Tumulty notes on Twitter, "'Jihadi John' from an upscale family, as was Osama bin Laden. Both contradict thesis that radicalization about economic frustration."
How Emwazi, 27, transitioned from a student in a Western capital to a force of malice in an Islamic terror group in the Middle East will be the subject of analysis and conjecture as Western governments continue to grapple with ISIS's surprising ability to recruit on a global scale. The unmasking of Emwazi comes just one day after American authorities arrested two men who had been living in Brooklyn for allegedly plotting to join ISIS or even conduct attacks on the United States. And, earlier this week, the saga of three missing London schoolgirls who were thought to have fled the United Kingdom concluded with reports that they had crossed into Syria.