(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. is “reasonably certain” that “Jihadi John” was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Raqqa, Syria Thursday night, according to a U.S. military spokesman.
Although the U.S. is still working to conclusively determine that he was killed in the strike, the official characterized his death as a “significant blow” to ISIS given his prominence as a major recruiting tool for the organization.
“It’s still early, but we are reasonably certain that we killed the target that we intended to kill, that was “Jihadi John”,” said Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, in a video briefing with Pentagon reporters.
“Jihadi John” was the nickname used to describe Mohammed Emwazi, a British member of ISIS, who gained notoriety for his role in the beheading videos of western hostages.
Warren said a military drone had fired a Hellfire missile at a car carrying Jihadi John and another person.
“We know for a fact that the weapons system hit its intended target and that the personnel who were on the receiving end of that weapons system were in fact killed,” said Warren. “We still have to finalize the verification that those people were specifically who we thought they were.”
Warren said “we had been following this target for some time” and intelligence indicators gave the U.S. “great confidence” that the individual targeted in the strike was Jihadi John.
“When the opportunity presented itself, the opportunity for minimal civilian casualties, we took the shot,” he said.
Warren described Jihadi John’s death as “a significant blow” to ISIS because he was so well known and “kind of the face of the organization in many senses.”
“His death is more significant for ISIL — he was a primary recruitment tool for that organization,” said Warren.
A U.S. military official told ABC News that the U.S. is “99 percent certain” that Jihadi John is dead based on the intercepts of communications by ISIS extremists in the wake of the strike. The official said that in one communication there was an instruction to “stop talking about this,” which is a good indicator that he was killed in the strike.
There was also good intelligence gathered before the strike that placed him in the car that was struck.
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