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'If it Were Not for Him, it Would Be Somebody Else': Victims' Families Give Mixed Reactions to the Naming of 'Jihadi John'

Mohammed Emwazi, a 26-year-old computer science graduate from west London, was named on Thursday as the masked man featured in the Islamic State's beheading videos.

by Sally Hayden
Feb 27 2015, 1:50pm

Photo via Reuters

On Thursday, the Islamic State fighter the media has dubbed "Jihadi John" was named as Mohammed Emwazi, a 26-year-old computer science graduate from West London.

Since then, families of the many victims who have appeared in videos featuring the masked militant have reacted to the release of his identity with a variety of statements. Yet throughout all the interviews the overwhelming emotion evident is continued grief.

Barak Barfi, a spokesperson for the family of Steven Sotloff — one of the American journalists apparently killed Emwazi — told Sky News: "They hope that this man — if he is indeed Jihadi John — will be caught by the American intelligence officials, brought to trial in the United States, and convicted for the crime of beheading their son.

"There's going to be no closure until these people are brought to justice. This is just one step in a long path. The Taliban were toppled in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was eradicated in Afghanistan, and we believe that one day, Islamic State's end will come," Barfi said.

"When that comes, people like Jihadi John will have nowhere to run."

Related: Islamic State's 'Jihadi John' named as Mohammed Emwazi from West London. Read more here.

Dragana Haines, the widow of British aid worker David Haines told the BBC that hearing the news was basically like going through the day of his murder again. "I don't know what to say anymore," she said. "I can only hope that he will be caught."

While the identification of her husband's murderer was something Dragana said she had been wishing for, that doesn't equate to a feeling of resolution or increased peace of mind. "Ever since I found out that David had been murdered I have been hoping that this man will be identified and obviously caught but it's difficult to be reminded of it all again," she said. 

"I hope he will be caught alive," Dragana continued. "Because if he gets killed in the action that would be an honorable death for him and that is the last thing I would actually want for someone like him. I think he needs to be put to justice, but not in that way."

Related: "Christian martyrs change the world": We meet the families of the Egyptian Christians beheaded by the Islamic State. Read more here.

Haines was captured in early 2013, and was 44 when he was beheaded in September 2014. Reacting to the unmasking of her father's murderer, his daughter Bethany said that she still feels vengeful towards the killer. "It's a good step but I think all the families will feel closure and relief once there's a bullet between his eyes," she said in an interview with ITV News. 

When asked about how she felt the British security forces had behaved, and particularly about the fact that they seemed to have been aware of Emwazi's extremist involvement already, Bethany said: "It is shocking but they're doing their job, they're doing the best they can. They've not dealt with a so-called Islamic State like this before, there's no right or wrong."

Bethany added that she believes security needs to be increased in airports. "They need to ask more security questions. Why are people going to Turkey and then getting a connection flight, it's not right. You don't just go to Syria for a holiday."

James Foley was the American journalist brutally murdered in the first video that featured the militant who has now been identified as Emwazi. Diane Foley, the journalist's mother, told the London Times that she felt sorry for Emwazi. "It saddens me, his continued hatred. He felt wronged, now we hate him — now that just prolongs the hatred. We need to end it. As a mum I forgive him. You know, the whole thing is tragic — an ongoing tragedy."

Related: The Islamic State has reportedly kidnapped at least 150 members of a Christian minority group. Read more here.

Foley's father John Foley addressed the issue on Thursday night while speaking to an audience of students in Arizona. He said that the revelation was unimportant. 

"Discovering who he is might be important to some people, but it's not important to me," Foley stated. "Jihadi John happened to be in that position. But if it were not for him, it would be somebody else."

"If we keep hating one another and hurting one another how do we ever get to peace," he added.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd