“Jihadi John,” the ISIS terrorist who became notorious worldwide for his appearance in several beheading videos, was targeted by a U.S. drone strike in Syria on Thursday, according to the Pentagon. The AP reports that U.S. forces attempted to hit a vehicle transporting Mohammed Emwazi in Raqqa.
“He walked out of a building and got in the car. We struck it right after with zero collateral damage. The vehicle was on fire. It was a 100 percent flawless, direct hit,” one official told ABC News, adding that the terrorist essentially “evaporated.”
“Emwazi, a British citizen, participated in the videos showing the murders of U.S. 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 hostages,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. “We are assessing the results of tonight’s operation and will provide additional information as and where appropriate.”
Although there has been no official confirmation, one unnamed U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal, “We are assessing the results for a final confirmation but initial indications are that Jihadi John is no longer on this planet.” An anonymous U.S. official told CBS News, “They’re really sure” and “pretty goddam certain” he was dead.
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters, according to the New York Times, “We are still assessing the results of this strike, but the terrorists associated with [ISIS] need to know this: Your days are numbered, and you will be defeated. There is no future, no path forward for [ISIS], which does not lead ultimately to its elimination, to its destruction.”
The New York Post, in New York Post fashion, titled its story on the air strike “It looks like we smoked this son of a bitch.”
U.S. forces have reportedly been tracking Emwazi for several months. The U.K.— where Jihadi John was from — took part in the search. “We cannot yet be certain if the strike was successful,” Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday morning. “But let me be clear. I have always said that we would do whatever was necessary, whatever it took, to track down Emwazi and stop him taking the lives of others. We have been working, with the United States, literally around the clock to track him down.”
In recent days, the U.S. and its allies have stepped up attacks on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, foreign ministers and diplomats plan to meet in Vienna this weekend to try and see if a political solution to the strife in Syria is even possible.
Jihadi John, the lead executioner of the Islamic State, was known for favoring grotesque and sadistic methods when it came to dealing with ISIS’s captives. There were the videos of hostages being decapitated, which Jihadi John no longer appeared in after he was identified earlier this year. Other awful things took place off-camera, too. “He picked me up and I had to dance the tango, John and I,” Danish photographer Daniel Rye told CNN. Rye was held hostage in Syria for more than a year. “My head was down and afraid of being beaten. He led me around the prison. Suddenly, he changed and just pushed me down. They kicked and hit me. They finished by threatening to cut my nose off with pliers and things like that.”
James Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, told ABC News that even if Emwazi’s death is confirmed, it will be “really a small solace to us.” “This huge effort to go after the this deranged man filled with hate when they can’t make half that effort to save the hostages while these young Americans were still alive,” she said. The mother of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto told reporters, “I only wish there will be no more conflicts like these in this world, as my son had hoped to see peace prevail around the world.”
This post has been updated throughout.