After the unmasking of Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John” as a West London computer programmer named Mohammed Emwazi, Asim Qureshi looked into the television cameras here and made an explosive assertion: Britain, he suggested, had created its own monster.
A senior member of a rights group that had sought to advise Emwazi before his transformation into a now-infamous killer, Qureshi insisted that the pressure tactics of overzealous secret service agents bent on turning him into an informant had contributed to the metamorphosis of a person who had once been a “kind,” “gentle” and “beautiful young man.” And he was not the first case. British intelligence had used similar tactics, Qureshi charged, on one of the men who had beheaded a British soldier on a London street in broad daylight in 2013.
The nation reacted fast, condemning Qureshi and the group he serves — Cage, whose outreach director is a former Guantanamo detainee — as part of the problem. Prime Minister David Cameron called Qureshi’s comments “reprehensible.” The Daily Mail decried Cage on its front page as “Jihadi John apologists.” A government body on Saturday reaffirmed an investigation into Cage’s biggest donors. Qureshi — who levied his charges in a Cage news conference held after The Washington Post unmasked Emwazi on Thursday — said he began taking extra security precautions this weekend after receiving death threats against him and his family.
“What we are seeing is an unwillingness to be introspective about the role we play in alienating our own youth,” Qureshi said.
The reaction here suggests a powerful friction in Britain — as well as Franceand Denmark and other countries that have borne the marks in recent weeks of Islamist terrorism — over the tactics security agencies are deploying to curb a new generation of homegrown terrorists. The basic question: Is the intelligence community taking the right approach?
Suggestions that Emwazi may have had radical leanings prior to his first known run in with British intelligence in 2009 indicate he may have been on an inexorable path to becoming Jihadi John before its alleged involvement. Yet even some here who completely distance themselves from Qureshi’s assertions are questioning whether the security agencies are spending too much time seeking to cultivate and turn prospective extremists, rather than arrest and prosecute them.
“Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: How many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?” David Davies, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, wrote in the Guardian after The Post’s disclosure.