U.S. 'Reasonably Certain' 'Jihadi John' Killed in Drone Strike

Jihadi John targeted in airstrike
A masked, black-clad militant, who has been identified by the Washington Post newspaper as a Briton named Mohammed Emwazi but who earned the nickname "Jihadi John". A militant seen more recently in an ISIS video has been nicknamed "Jihadi Tolik". SITE Intel Group/Handout via Reuters

The U.S. is "reasonably certain" that a drone strike killed the Islamic State (ISIS) militant Mohammed Emwazi, also known as "Jihadi John," on Thursday, but warned that it will take time to formally declare his death.

Army Colonel Steven Warren, spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS known as the Combined Joint Task Force—Operation Inherent Resolve, said from Baghdad on Friday that the U.S. airstrike "hit its intended target and the personnel on the receiving end...were in fact killed." Intelligence gave the U.S. "great confidence" that their target was Emwazi. Warren confirmed that Emwazi was killed in a car with his driver, originally described by Warren as Emwazi's "worst best friend," a Pentagon colloquialism.

"Jihadi John was somewhat of an ISIL [ISIS] celebrity," Warren said during a press briefing on Friday. His death is "a significant blow to [ISIS's] prestige," although Emwazi wasn't a major tactical or operational figure, Warren said.

Warren added that there was "no reason to believe" that civilians were killed in the strike.

The attack occurred in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of ISIS's caliphate, though it is not yet clear whether Emwazi was killed in the strike. Speaking to the BBC an unnamed U.S. official said he believed "with a high degree of certainty" that Emwazi had been hit.

A Kuwaiti-born British citizen, Emwazi was featured in ISIS videos showing the executions of U.S. journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, the U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and those of several other hostages.

On Friday, videos of the strikes near Sinjar were posted to YouTube on the channel for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.

A U.S. official told the BBC that the strike was on a vehicle, believed to be carrying Emwazi, who they have been tracking "for a period of time." Speaking to the Associated Press, a U.S. official said a drone was used to target the vehicle.

Officials believe that Emwazi arrived in Syria in 2013, before later joining ISIS. He first appeared in a video showing the beheading of James Foley in August 2014. In the video and the ones that followed, he was shown dressed in a black robe with a black balaclava covering his face. Emwazi was publicly identified in February 2015.

The nickname "Jihadi John" originated from a group of his hostages who called Emwazi, and three other militants with British accents the Beatles. The hostages called Emwazi "John" after the band's lead singer John Lennon.

The Pentagon has said it will release additional information on the strike "as and where appropriate." A spokeswoman for the U.K. government told the Guardian they were aware of the strike but not commenting further.