Mohammed Emwazi and al-Qaeda in Somalia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 1, 2015

Mohammed Emwazi (

Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”)

The good news of the week is that CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners) is finished. While there had been no shortage of people pointing out that CAGE is a Salafi jihadist advocacy group and terrorist-supporting outfit, not a human rights organisation, this was often met with accusations of “Islamophobia,” McCarthyism, and worse. In 2010, Amnesty International—which partners with CAGE—fired the head of its Gender Unit, Gita Shaghal, when she complained of making Moazzam Begg an A.I. poster-boy. Begg claims to have been wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay; for his actual record see the excellent work done by Thomas Joscelyn (start here and here.) But no person of good faith will ever again defend CAGE.

There it was, on national television: CAGE’s spokesman, Asim Qureshi, delivering an hour-long suicide letter, in which he referred to the Islamic State’s (ISIS) video butcher, “Jihadi John,” now unmasked as Mohammed Emwazi, as an “extremely kind, gentle, beautiful young man” who had been pushed to radicalism by harassment from the security forces. For good measure, sat by Qureshi’s side was John Rees, a “former” leader of the Socialist Workers Party and open supporter of Saddam Hussein, and next to him was Cerie Bullivant, a British convert to Islam with a history of petty criminality. “They have finally stuffed themselves,” one British official said, and for some of us this self-immolation was simply delightful.

Qureshi had, during his protracted hara-kiri, took a slap at the Quilliam, a counter-extremism think-tank. One of Quilliam’s founders, the reformist Muslim Maajid Nawaz, who knew Qureshi at university, said Qureshi, who bills himself as a moderate, is a fan of Haitham al-Haddad, a hysterical zealot of Palestinian descent who presides over a shari’a court in London. Haddad praised Osama bin Laden, has said Jews are “the enemies of God and the descendants of apes and pigs,” has railed against the “scourge” of homosexuality, saying “godless homosexuals” are trying to destroy the institution of marriage and that sodomy is a “criminal act,” and has held forth on the “proper” way to mutilate the genitals of a little girl. “Moderate” can be such an elastic word can’t it?

CAGE’s main “argument,” both in the quite deranged document it released earlier in the day on Thursday giving a profile of Emwazi and then in the press conference, placing the blame for Emwazi’s psychopathic behaviour on the security forces, simply falls when the evidence is examined. The attention Emwazi received from the security services, including when they stopped him as he tried to go on “safari” in May 2009 in Tanzania—the event CAGE says began Emwazi’s descent into alienation and ultimately radicalism—was because Emwazi had already been radicalised and was moving in circles of known al-Qaeda terrorists related to al-Shabab in Somalia.

It is worth noting that the argument that alienation leads to radicalism is deeply flawed.

An academic study of 117 home-grown Islamist terrorists in the United States and Great Britain noted:

As homegrown terrorists radicalize, they often come to perceive an inherent schism between Islam and the West—believing that the two are at odds, and perhaps even incapable of coexistence. This perception can be expressed in a number of ways. In some cases, individuals attempt to isolate themselves from Western society physically.”

In short, alienation is a part of the radicalisation process; it is not a cause of radicalisation. CAGE knows this too, which is why CAGE relentlessly pushes messages on the young and impressionable Muslims, usually the sons and daughters of immigrants, telling them that they are persecuted and despised in their adopted countries, deliberately isolating them from, and teaching them to hate, the society that has given them shelter.

Emwazi was born in Kuwait in 1988 and came to Britain in 1994 at the age of six. Emwazi graduated from Westminster University in September 2009. Emwazi returned to Britain from Kuwait in May 2010 and was prevented from leaving because he was seen as a terrorism risk. CAGE uses this to say Emwazi had been “trapped” but the fact Emwazi managed to take off for jihad in Syria rather suggests that something less than a Police State was being concentrated upon him.

The BBC produced a court document showing that Emwazi was involved in the so-called Berjawi network from 2007—which if you are keeping count, is two years before the security services made contact with Emwazi.

Of Lebanese origin, Bilal el-Berjawi was a Londoner who took up with al-Shabab and was struck down by a U.S. drone in Mogadishu in January 2012. Berjawi had also “interacted with CAGE,” which means—in combination with Emwazi and Michael Adebolajo, the murderer of Fusilier Lee Rigby—CAGE has had proven contact with three terrorist murderers.

A report from early November 2009 named Berjawi and two other Brits, Walla Eldin Abdel Rahman and Sakrih Mohammed, as having entered Somalia in the days immediately beforehand. “Sakrih Mohammed” is likely an alias or mistaken identity of Mohammed Sakr, another Brit and a friend of Emwazi’s since childhood, who was killed in a drone strike in Somalia in February 2012. Sakr’s parents (naturally) blame the British security services for their son being a zealot. But Sakr seems to be the man identified in the BBC’s document as having returned to Britain in February 2007 from Somalia, having gone there in 2006. [Correction: Reza Afsharzadegan was the man who had been in Somalia in late 2006 and returned to the U.K. in February 2007, and who was kept on a control order. Sakr had first attempted to get to Somalia in February 2009. Sakr had shown increasing signs of militancy, however, before 2007.]

By the sympathetic reports of Sakr, it is said that 2007 was the year he calmed down and opened a car business, but as was seen with the Charlie Hebdo killers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, who were “pointedly discreet” in their last few weeks: for those seriously considering taking to jihad abroad—and who are in the meanwhile recruiting—the decision can be taken to ostentatiously abjure signs of radicalism.

Sakr was judged a risk and kept under surveillance. Sakr had been arrested with Rahman in January 2009 for a “protest” outside the Israeli Embassy in London during Operation CAST LEAD. Berjawi and Sakr left for jihad in Somalia in February 2009, telling their families—you knew this was coming—they were going on “safari”. They were arrested and deported after a hotel manager in Mombasa alerted the authorities in Kenya. Undeterred, by October 2009 the duo were back in Kenya. By November 2009, when Ugandan authorities began a manhunt for Berjawi, Sakr and Rahman for plotting terrorism against Uganda, all three men were in Somalia. In July 2010, there was a massive explosion in Kampala during the final of the World Cup that massacred seventy-four people. Some reports in Uganda said that the three Brits had entered the country earlier that month; if it is true it is unclear what role they played in the attack.

“[C]ourt documents and officials suggest that [Emwazi] had a close association with these radicals,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

In August 2013, Emwazi’s family reported him missing. We now know where he was. According to CAGE, Emwazi went to holy war under a new name, Mohammed al-Ayan, which he adopted by deed poll. It is not clear when exactly Emwazi entered Syria but the BBC says he was “reported to be in Idlib [in 2013], assisting in guarding Western hostages” for Jabhat an-Nusra, which Emwazi joined initially. A job like that is not just given to anybody.

Correction: Had initially stated that Emwazi joined ISIS as soon as he entered Syria; in fact he joined Nusra first.

Update: Do have a watch of Asim Qureshi at a Hizb-ut-Tahir rally in London in 2006 calling on Muslims to “support the jihad” against the West.

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