London: The masked "Jihadi John" killer who fronted Islamic State beheading videos has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a British computer programming graduate from a well-to-do London family who was known to the security services.
The black-clad militant brandishing a knife and speaking with an English accent was shown in videos released by Islamic State (IS) apparently decapitating hostages including Americans, Britons and Syrians.
The 26-year-old militant used the videos to threaten the West, admonish its Arab allies and taunt President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron before petrified hostages cowering in orange jump suits.
Emwazi's name was first disclosed by the Washington Post, citing unidentified former associates. Two US government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that investigators believed Jihadi John was Emwazi.
Dressed entirely in black, a balaclava covering all but his eyes and the bridge of his nose and a holster under his left arm, Jihadi John became a menacing symbol of Islamic State brutality and one of the world's most wanted men.
Hostages called him John as he and other Britons in Islamic State had been nicknamed the Beatles.
Emwazi was born in Kuwait but came to Britain aged 6 and graduated with a computer programming degree from the University of Westminster before coming to the attention of Britain's main domestic intelligence service, MI5, according to an account given by Asim Qureshi, the research director of the Cage charity that campaigns for those detained on terrorism charges.
Emwazi, a fluent Arabic speaker, said MI5 had tried to recruit him and then prevented him from travelling abroad, forcing him to flee abroad without telling his family, Qureshi told a news conference in London.
Emwazi travelled to Syria around 2012, Qureshi said. MI5 does not publicly comment on the identity of militants or their backgrounds while an investigation is still ongoing. The British government and police declined to confirm or deny Emwazi's identity, citing an ongoing security investigation.
"We don't confirm or deny matters relating to intelligence," said a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has ordered spy agencies and soldiers to track down the killer.
Most wanted man
"Jihadi John" rose to notoriety in August 2014 when a video appeared showing a masked man raging against the United States before apparently beheading US citizen James Foley off camera.
Intelligence services in the United States and Britain used a variety of investigative techniques including voice and facial recognition as well as interviews with former hostages to identify the man, intelligence sources said.
But security officials made great efforts to avoid publicly naming Emwazi, fearing that would make him more difficult to catch. Two intelligence sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were uneasy that the name had been revealed.
There was no answer at two addresses in west London where Emwazi was listed to have lived. Neighbours described the family as "normal people" and "friendly".
"This is the first time anything like this happens in this neighbourhood," said Fatima Al-Baqali. "We have to be careful now. I didn't know this family and I usually know everyone here."