Flaws in U.K. counterterrorism laws allowed Mohammed Emwazi to escape – and become “Jihadi John”

TerrorismFlaws in U.K. counterterrorism laws allowed Mohammed Emwazi to escape – and become “Jihadi John”
Published 10 March 2015

Before Mohammed Emwazi, the British-Kuwaiti Islamic State (ISIS) fighter now known as “Jihadi John” traveled to Syria and began beheading victims, including American journalist James Foley, he was on the radar of British intelligence officials. He described the pressure he was experiencing from surveillance in a series of e-mails to the Mail on Sunday newspaper between December 2010 and 2011. He said that the pressure of being watched was getting to him. British administrative court documents suggest Emwazi was part of a radical West London recruitment network for terrorist groups in East Africa. By 2013, drone strikes, gains by African Unionforces, and infighting within al-Shabaab had made it difficult for foreign fighters to participate in the insurgency in Somalia. Emwazi’s West London group soon pivoted their efforts on fighting the Assad government in Syria.

Before Mohammed Emwazi, the British-Kuwaiti Islamic State (ISIS) fighter now known as “Jihadi John” traveled to Syria and began beheading victims, including American journalist James Foley, he was on the radar of British intelligence officials. He described the pressure he was experiencing from surveillance in a series of e-mails to the Mail on Sunday newspaper between December 2010 and 2011. He said that the pressure of being watched was getting to him. “I’ll take as many pills as I can so that I will sleep for ever,” he wrote, adding that he felt, “like a dead man walking.”
Shortly after being deported from Tanzania in August 2009, Emwazi met with representatives of CAGE, a Muslim advocacy group. In a meeting recorded by the group, Emwazi claimed his plans for a safari vacation were disrupted when he was detained at the airport and sent back first to Amsterdam and then to Dover, England, where he was interrogated by British security officials. Emwazi told representatives of CAGE that he had been accused of traveling to Tanzania to link up with al-Qaeda-backed terror group al-Shabaab in neighboring Somalia. Emwazi revealed that British security officials had been monitoring his phone conversations even before he made his trip, but he assured CAGE officials that he had no connection to terrorism and denounced extremism.
CNN News now reports that British administrative court documents suggest Emwazi was part of a radical West London recruitment network for terrorist groups in East Africa. One figure in the group identified as “CE” was allegedly trained by al-Qaeda terrorists in Somalia in 2006 and was later placed under “control order” — a British administrative measure to restrict the movement of terror suspects. A December 2011 court document regarding CE’s case named Emwazi as part of the same extremist network.
According to that document, British Home Secretary Theresa May “maintains that members of the network include BX, J1, Mohammed Ezzouek, Hamza Chentouf, Mohammed Emwazi, Mohammed Mekki, Mohammed Miah, Ahmed Hagi, Amin Addala, Aydarus Elmi, Sammy Al-Nagheeb, Bilal Berjawi and others.”
Several of those men traveled to East Africa and back to the United Kingdom on behalf of al-Qaeda for the purposes of fundraising, training, and recruiting new fighters to launch attacks on Western targets. At least one of the men, J1, an Ethiopian asylum seeker to the United Kingdom, had links to Hussain Osman of the al-Qaeda cell that attempted to bomb the London transport system on 21 July 2005, just two weeks after the London Underground explosions that killed fifty-two people and wounded 770.
By 2013, drone strikes, gains by African Union forces, and infighting within al-Shabaab had made it difficult for foreign fighters to participate in the insurgency in Somalia. Emwazi’s West London group soon pivoted their efforts on fighting the Assad government in Syria. At least two members of Emwazi’s network managed to leave Britain despite being placed under “terrorism prevention and investigation measures” (TPIMs).
According to Robin Simcox, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, TPIMs are the latest version of “control orders.” Introduced by the British coalition government in 2012, TPIMs removed authorities’ capability to relocate terror suspects, thereby making it easier for them to re-engage with their extremist networks. It is believed that Emwazi fled Britain through this and several other flaws in Britain’s counterterrorism laws. “We need to know whether Theresa May’s decision to ignore all our warnings and weaken counter-terror powers has made it easier to organize and recruit for Isil,” said Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper.
“Given the numbers who appear to have ‘slipped through the net’, it is legitimate to ask, how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?” former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis wrote in the Guardian in February.

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