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The Past Of 'Jihadi John': Early Run-Ins And Radicalization

Posted: February 27, 2015

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There are two narratives about Mohammed Emwazi's past that attempt to explain how he went from a well-to-do background to being internationally notorious.

A playground is seen in London, outside an address where Kuwaiti-born London computer programmer Mohammed Emwazi is believed to have lived. Emwazi has been identified as masked ISIS militant

A playground is seen in London, outside an address where Kuwaiti-born London computer programmer Mohammed Emwazi is believed to have lived. Emwazi has been identified as masked ISIS militant "Jihadi John." Niklas Halle'n

More details are emerging about Mohammed Emwazi, the man identified as the ISIS figure who has beheaded hostages held by the extremist group. His name came out Thursday; now we're learning more about his past.

Emwazi was born in Kuwait and grew up in West London; he reportedly graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in computer programming.

There are two narratives about Emwazi's past that attempt to explain how he went from a well-to-do background to being internationally notorious.

One scenario was put forth by a British advocacy organization called CAGE, where a researcher says that when he met with Emwazi in the fall of 2009, he was incensed after having been detained by British security services, NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

"The implication has been that Emwazi was radicalized by that poor treatment," Dina says.

But another part of the story comes from court papers that were recently obtained by the BBC. They suggest that Emwazi had radical leanings before he was detained.

"These court papers filed back in 2011 say that Emwazi was part of a group known as the North London Boys," Dina says. "They had links to the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabab. The London Boys were allegedly funneling money and fighters to the group as far back as 2007."

A member of that group went to fight in Somalia in 2009 after saying he was traveling to Africa to go on safari — a story that Emwazi also told when he was stopped by authorities months later, Dina says.

After moving to Kuwait in 2010, Emwazi eventually reached Syria, in 2012.

Trying to piece together Emwazi's past, the British media has descended on a building in London where he is believed to have lived.

For a look at Emwazi's life when he graduated from college in 2009, here's The Guardian:

"By this time, Emwazi was said to be a polite, observant Muslim with a penchant for designer clothes. He was also a member of a loose-knit group of Muslim youths who played five-a-side football together, were educated at the same schools, attended the same mosques, and were all impressed by a particular preacher, Hani al-Sibai.

"Of that group, three are now dead, one is living in Sudan after being stripped of his British citizenship, a fourth cannot leave the UK for fear that he too will be deprived of his citizenship, and several are serving prison sentences."

Under the headline "Jihadi Junior," The Sun has printed a class photo that the newspaper says includes Emwazi at age 11. It adds that he was a fan of Manchester United.

U.S. and British authorities have not publicly confirmed Emwazi's identity, but intelligence officials in both countries have told journalists that they identified Emwazi months ago — and that they wanted to keep their discovery secret, due to operational reasons.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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