LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday defended Britain’s security services and vowed to defeat Islamic extremists after media reports named Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John” as London graduate Mohammed Emwazi.
“We will do everything we can with the police, the security services, with all that we have at our disposal, to find these people and put them out of action,” Cameron said at news conference in Wales.
“All of the time they (the security services) are having to make incredibly difficult judgements and I think basically they make very good judgements on our behalf,” he said.
Media and experts have identified Emwazi as the Islamic State group militant believed to be responsible for beheading at least five Westerners.
While police have declined to confirm the reports, families of the slain hostages said they hoped his identification would lead to him being brought to justice.
“My only hope is that the revelation of his identity will lead to his arrest,” Dragana, the widow of murdered British aid worker David Haines, told AFP from her home in Croatia.
Haines’ daughter Bethany, however, told British news channel ITV that victims’ families would feel closure only “once there’s a bullet between his eyes”.
Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 came under scrutiny following the revelations about Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born computing graduate who had lived in London since the age of six.
Civil rights group Cage said MI5 had been tracking Emwazi, aged in his mid-20s, since at least 2009.
“MI5 blunders that allowed Jihadi John to slip the net,” read a headline in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, while the Daily Mail asked: “On the MI5 watch list, so how could he escape to Syria?”
Olivier Guitta, managing director of security and risk consultancy GlobalStrat, warned that British security forces lacked adequate resources to track all those who crossed their radar.
“You can follow a guy for one year, two years, he doesn’t do anything so you have to drop it,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“To monitor one person you need 30 officers, so if you have in England 1,000 people that are on your list, you need 30,000 officers. We don’t have that.”
Cage, which published years of correspondence with Emwazi, blamed his radicalisation on his alleged detention and “harassment” by the British security services.
The group said he had become radicalised following a post-graduation trip to Tanzania in 2009 when he was accused of seeking to join militants in Somalia.
It also alleged that MI5 had launched a failed bid to recruit him.
London mayor Boris Johnson, a member of Cameron’s Conservative party, accused Cage of an “apology for terror”.
John Sawers, the former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign spy agency, also condemned the group’s arguments as “specious”.
“The idea that somehow being spoken to by a member of MI5 is a radicalising act, I think this is very false and very transparent,” Sawers told BBC radio.
An acquaintance of Emwazi who worshipped at a mosque near his London home described him as a “strict” Muslim who prayed up to five times a day.
“We never saw him with any group or doing anything wrong in the area,” he said.
“If he has been doing these things it’s wrong. I am sure he was a good guy and we are surprised about this now.”
The first photograph of Emwazi as an adult was published late Friday by Sky News, reportedly taken from his university records and showing him with a goatee beard and wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap.
In the gruesome Islamic State videos posted online, the masked executioner appears dressed all in black with only his eyes exposed, brandishing a knife while launching tirades against the West.
“Jihadi John”, nicknamed after Beatle John Lennon due to his British accent, is believed to be responsible for the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers Haines and Alan Henning and US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig.