Who was 'Jihadi John?'

Childhood friends describe Mohammed Emwazi, better known as the British-accented ISIS executioner, as ordinary "boy next door."

"Jihadi John," the Briton named Mohammed Emwazi (photo credit: REUTERS)
"Jihadi John," the Briton named Mohammed Emwazi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mohammed Emwazi, the masked face in ISIS execution videos coined "Jihadi John" by media, is remembered by friends and neighbors as a typical "boy next door" character, enthused by sports, pop music, and pop-culture television sitcoms, CNN reported Friday.
Intelligence and terrorism experts are still trying to piece together the puzzle behind his journey from typical, educated young middle-class boy in London to brutal ISIS executioner in Syria.
The answer remains to be uncovered, with the emergence of recent clues into his past depicting anything but an Islamic extremist with violent tendencies.
Emwazi, born in Kuwait, emigrated to west London in 1988 at the age of six with his family, according to the CNN report. His father, a taxi-driver, and mother, designated homemaker, enrolled the boy at St. Mary Magdalene CE Primary School, a school which prides itself on multiculturalism and diversity.
A former classmate told CNN Emwazi was "sporty and popular," partaking in football during lunchtime and after school despite his initial struggle with the English language.
At the age of 10, Emwazi was enamored with then-pop-sensation S Club 7, The Simpsons, and video games, CNN reported.
Two childhood acquaintances tell of a playground football incident in which Emwazi ran into a goalpost, smashing his head into its metal frame and falling to the floor.
CNN reported one friend saying, "he was not the same ever since that brain injury."
Another tweeted, "he was a 12 year old kid. I remember we were playing football and he smashed his head on the goalpost. Now he kills people for a living."
Emwazi went on to Quintin Kynaston Academy, a school which aims "to develop the best in every student" after leaving St. Mary Magdalene. There, he was described to have been a "typical north-west London boy."
A classmate described Emwazi in the CNN report as quite popular, referring to him as "nice," "down to earth," and "humble."
He is depicted to have been quite tolerant of diversity, a boy who was  "friends with everyone," speaking to "all the Indian boys, all the Pakistani boys, [all the] people from different religions" - an approach far more tolerant  than ISIS' extreme radicalism which he now fosters.
Emwazi's neighbor reiterated comments that Emwazi was a polite, young man in the CNN report.
His former teacher described him as an ideal student: diligent, hardworking, responsible and polite.
The unidentified educator told CNN that there was never any indication of violent tendencies with Mohammed, despite his religious tendencies and mosque visits.
Emwazi continued his education at the Westminister University in London, according to CNN, where he completed a degree in computer programming in 2009.
The university issued a statement concerning Emwazi Thursday, saying, "if the allegations of terrorist activity are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families."
Emwazi is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 (three years after graduating from University), and to have later joined Islamic State.
In videos released by IS, the "Jihadi John" black-clad militant is seen masked, brandishing a knife, and speaking with an English accent before carrying out the beheadings of hostages including Americans and Britons.
The Post quoted friends of Emwazi  as saying they thought he had started to become radicalized after a planned safari in Tanzania following his graduation from University.
They said Emwazi and two friends - a German convert to Islam named Omar and another man, Abu Talib - never made it to the safari. On landing in Dar es Salaam, in May 2009, they were detained by police and held overnight before eventually being deported, they said.
In 2010, counter-terrorism officials in Britain detained Emwazi, according to the Post, fingerprinting him and searching his belongings.