Jihadi John’s first appearance in IS propaganda videos was the beheading of US journalist James Foley.
The claims were made by Cage, an Islamist advocacy group founded by former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg, whose leaked "secret" Joint Task Force-Guantanamo file can be read here.
Cage said Emwazi, a 26-year-old Kuwait-born British citizen was subjected to at least four years of “harassment” by MI5. This, Cage said, included being “detained at airports, deported, barred from entering countries and even allegedly assaulted by officers.”
It isn’t clear how these claims point to the Secret Service radicalizing Emwazi, but as ex-MI5 chief Sir John Sawers said, "the idea that somehow being spoken to by a member of MI5 is a radicalizing act, I think this is very false and very transparent."
Cage neither confirms or denies Emwazi is “Jihadi John,” but the organization’s claim he was radicalized by MI5 certainly does not paint him as an innocent, either. Emwazi’s own mother said she immediately recognized her son when she heard him on one of the hostage beheading videos released by IS.
Cage’s support of Emwazi has attracted attentionfrom several quarters, not the least of which is Amnesty International, which is considering distancing itself from the advocacy group as many now believe Cage is a pro-terrorist organization.
Johnson had an impassioned encounter with Cage research director Asim Qureshi on February 3 on London radio station LBC. The London Mayor told Qureshi he should stop crying Islamophobia and concentrate on the “sick atrocities” perpetrated by IS.
Johnson regularly pens articles for the British newspaper, The Telegraph. His latest column, which also appears on his own official Facebook page, does more than question Cage’s claims.
Referring to a Channel 4 television news broadcast where Qureshi was interviewed by Jon Snow regarding Emwazi, Johnson wrote, "At first I couldn’t believe my ears. Jihadi John had finally been exposed as Mohammed Emwazi, and there on our screens was this knife-wielding assassin – a frame taken from one of those nauseating videos in which he swaggers and gloats and boasts about the ways in which he has subverted all decency and cut off the heads of a string of innocent aid workers and journalists. And there in the television studio was a man who seemed intent on exculpating the terrorist.”
“He was called Asim Qureshi, the ‘research director’ of a body called ‘Cage,’ and he was determined to blame absolutely everyone except the killer himself," Johnson said. "When Jon Snow gently asked him to condemn the murders, he started babbling indignantly about the deeds of Tony Blair and Dick Cheney."
"When pressed again," Johnson wrote, "he accused the newsreader of Islamophobia. When Snow – who did an excellent job – asked him again to assign blame where it lay, fully and squarely with the ghoul in Syria, he started, incredibly, to blame the UK security services.”
It was this assignation of blame at the feet of MI5 that has provoked the most debate following the Channel 4 news interview.
Continuing, Johnson wrote, “Yes, the brutal security services had stopped Emwazi from going to Tanzania ‘to make a life for himself abroad.’ Make a life for himself! He was going to join a terrorist group called Al Shabaab, and at one stage tried to force himself on board a plane. This sick young terrorist – said Qureshi – was ‘a beautiful man, very caring, very compassionate towards others.’ Tell that to the relatives who have seen him publicly behead their loved ones."
"It was one of the most vomit-making TV interviews I have ever seen, and at first I simply dismissed it. Surely no one would believe such rubbish; and then I reflected – and of course I saw that Cage and other apologists are by no means idiotic," Johnson continued. "You and I can see through their lies, but there are thousands, if not millions, who are more suggestible and who are willing to see things that way. The Cage people are pandering to a section of the audience that is frighteningly large, and growing. We need collectively to demolish their myths; and to do it fast.”
Johnson is not the first to suggest that Cage’s intentions are far from honorable. In July 2014, extremism analysts Douglas Murray and Robin Simcox wrote in The Telegraph that, "The evidence shows that Cage is a pro-terrorism group." Murray and Simcox wrote Cage “does not just stand up for alleged terrorists. It also stands up for actual, convicted terrorists” and that Cage had invited Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsular cleric Anwar Al Awlaki — who was instrumental in attacks against the West — to speak at its events.
In his column, Johnson warned that taking a soft line with the likes of IS is not working. “They have money, oil, huge tracts of land – flats and material comforts with which to bait the deluded girls from Bethnal Green, who think they are going out to meet a religious and gun-toting version of Brad Pitt. We need to come up with a way of beating them – and given the understandablepublic revulsion at the thought of British boots on the ground, we need to work harder at backing the Kurdish Peshmerga, and persuading the Sunni military that it is in their interests not to collaborate with the terrorists, but to drive them out."
"Yet none of these solutions will be any use unless we also change the way these people are sometimes viewed, and especially by young Muslims growing up in this country, whether in London schools or anywhere else," Johnson wrote. "We need to debunk these jihadists and their phoney ideology. There is nothing pure or honorable in their barbaric subculture – of rape camps, throwing gays off cliffs and burning people alive in cages."
"They are not even religious: many are said to have a very sketchy knowledge of the Koran. They are hopeless hypocrites who claim to despise the West but who pathetically wear Nike trainers and daub their temples with expensive Chanel cologne (Egoiste, appropriately, the preferred aroma). Many of them are losers: twits, twerps and misfits who are hopelessly caught up in a mobile-assisted pornography of violence.”
Johnson also wrote of one of the most worrying developments in Britain – the confusion between jihadism and Islam. That’s perhaps understandable, although not easily forgivable by members of thegeneral public, but extremely damaging when vocalized by organizations who should know better.
“Above all, we must stop this fateful elision – encouraged by the likes of Cage – between this jihadism and Islam," Johnson stated. "The other day I pointed out that many of these young men are – according to the security services – heavy users of porn. I was astounded to be denounced, on the front page of The Guardian, by the Muslim Council of Britain [MCB]. A spokeswoman said that I was somehow attacking Muslims as a whole. Why on earth would she say that? Why is the MCB effectively claiming these porn freak jihadists for mainstream Islam?"
"It is vital to insist, time and again, on the difference between this sick jihadism and Islam; and that is why, conversely, we must do everything we can to stop the likes of Cage – and indeed the MCB – from eliding anti-jihadism with Islamophobia," Johnson said. "You can loathe jihadists, in other words, and be perfectly sympathetic to Muslims.”
Muslims in Britain often feel threatened by those who confuse Islam with jihadism. Things are improving as more and more non-Muslims openly support their fellow citizens and condemn Islamophobia. Recently, more protesters attended a pro-Islam protest organized as a response to an anti-Islam protest than attended the original event.
The fact is simple: there are more pro-Muslim supporters in London – from all cultures and communities – but there are still Islamophobes.
For many British people, especially the middle-aged and elderly, jihadism is a new concept. All they know of it is what has been reported in the press, much of which is targeted scaremongering to sell papers and what John down the pub says.
Very few ordinary citizens fully understand what jihadism is, what Islam is, and that the difference between the two is the difference between chalk and cheese. It will take a concerted effort by politicians, media and Muslim community groups such as MCB to help cut through the confusion some people feel between jihadism and Islam. The MCB’s comments directed at Johnson only serve to confuse the confused even further, and create a dangerous battlefield.
Some British Muslims have already condemned Johnson’s latest writings – but if they were to read the article in its entirety, as well as his other columns for The Telegraph, they would see he very often defends Muslims against generalization from other sectors of British society, understands that they might well be offended at the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, worries about Cage’s terror-supporting influence on British Muslims, and has stated thevast majority of Muslims reject and condemn jihadism.
So, while on the face of it, looking merely at headlines and soundbites, Johnson may come across as antagonistic. But the London Mayor is in fact being entirely sensible.
It may be too late for Cage to fight for an end to violence in the name of Islam, and perhaps this isn’t even in their remit, but if the likes of MCB would work with, instead of against, Johnson, then London, Britain and the West could make great inroads in fighting both jihadism and Islamophobia hand-in-hand.