LONDON (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that Britain “can’t yet be certain” an airstrike in Syria had killed the British man known as “Jihadi John,”who participated in the beheading videos of two American journalists and the slayings of several other captives, according to the Pentagon.
But a U.S. official told CBS News Friday that while they couldn’t completely confirm the death of Mohamed Emwazi, they were virtually certain he was killed as got into a vehicle in the Syrian city of Raqqa. “They’re really sure,” the official told CBS News senior defense correspondent David Martin.
An American drone had been tracking the target believed to be Emwazi since Wednesday, waiting for a clear shot. The hellfire missile was fired late Thursday in Syria.
An official told ABC News “Jihadi John” was essentially “evaporated” in the drone strike.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Thursday that Emwazi was the intended target of the U.S. strike in Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Cameron said if proven, Emwazi’s death would be a significant blow to ISIS.
He said British officials had “been working with the U.S. around the clock to track him down. This was a combined effort.”
Calling the strike an “act of self defense,” Cameron described Emwazi as “a barbaric murderer” who posed a threat to people in Syria, “and those around the world.”
“I want to thank the U.S… thank those in the intelligence agencies,” said Cameron.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on an extensive network of opposition activists and fighters on the ground in Syria for information, said earlier Friday that all signs indicated Emwazi had been killed.
Local activists reported multiple explosions in Raqqa near an ISIS “court” Thursday night, targeting a vehicle, where they believe he was killed.
Emwazi has been described by a former hostage as a bloodthirsty psychopath who enjoyed threatening Western hostages. Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa, who had been held in Syria for more than six months after his abduction in September 2013, said Emwazi would explain precisely how the militants would carry out a beheading.
Emwazi is in the videos showing the killings of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and a number of other ISIS hostages.
Diane Foley, James Foley’s mom, told ABC News the drone strike was “small solace” to the family.
“This huge effort to go after this deranged man filled with hate when they can’t make half that effort to save the hostages while those young Americans were still alive,” she told ABC News. “It’s unfortunate that the government doesn’t get it. They think it gives us solace, but it doesn’t.”
The 27-year-old’s identity was confirmed in February by U.S. intelligence officials. Emwazi grew up in West London and graduated in 2009 from the University of Westminster with a degree in computer science.
Officials said Britain’s intelligence community had Emwazi on its list of potential terror suspects for years but was unable to prevent him from traveling to Syria.
He had been known to the nation’s intelligence services since at least 2009, when he was connected with investigations into terrorism in Somalia.
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