Adonis Diaries

Archive for February 26th, 2015

 

 

Who is ‘Jihadi John’? This Londoner Islamic State slaughterer?

LONDON — The world knows him as “Jihadi John,” the masked man with a British accent who has beheaded several US hostages held by the Islamic State and who taunts audiences in videos circulated widely online.

‘Jihadi John’: Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi


The Islamic State member who beheaded Western hostages and appeared in widely circulated videos has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a young Londoner who was born in Kuwait. (Via AFP/Getty Images)

February 26, 2015

But his real name, according to friends and others familiar with his case, is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.

He is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined the Islamic State, the group whose barbarity he has come to symbolize.

“I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John,” said one of Emwazi’s close friends who identified him in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was like a brother to me. . . . I am sure it is him.”

[View: The atrocities of the Islamic State]

A representative of a British human rights group who had been in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria also said he believed Emwazi was Jihadi John, a moniker given to him by some of the hostages he once held.

Scores of hostages, including Westerners, have been killed by the Islamic State since 2014.

Here are some of the major incidents where the Islamic State killed the hostages.

“There was an extremely strong resemblance,” Asim Qureshi, research director at the rights group, CAGE, said after watching one of the videos. “This is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person.”

Authorities have used a variety of investigative techniques, including voice analysis and interviews with former hostages, to try to identify Jihadi John.

James B. Comey, the director of the FBI, said in September — only a month after the Briton was seen in a video killing American journalist James Foley — that officials believed they had succeeded.

[Read: Reaction to an identity revealed]

Nevertheless, the identity of Jihadi John has remained shrouded in secrecy.

Since Foley’s killing, he has appeared in a series of videos documenting the gruesome killings of other hostages, including four other Westerners, some of whom he personally beheaded.

[Read: The tactics of Islamic State beheadings]

In each, he is dressed in all black, a balaclava covering all but his eyes and the ridge of his nose. He wears a holster under his left arm.

A spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Washington said:

“Our prime minister has been clear that we want all those who have committed murder on behalf of ISIL to face justice for the appalling acts carried out. There is an ongoing police investigation into the murder of hostages by ISIL in Syria. It is not appropriate for the government to comment on any part of it while this continues.” ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Map: Flow of foreign fighters to Syria

U.S. officials declined to comment for this report. Emwazi’s family declined a request for an interview, citing legal advice.

The Kuwaiti-born Emwazi, in his mid-20s, appears to have left little trail on social media or elsewhere online. Those who knew him say he was polite and had a penchant for wearing stylish clothes while adhering to the tenets of his Islamic faith. He had a beard and was mindful of making eye contact with women, friends said.

He was raised in a middle-class neighborhood in London and on occasion prayed at a mosque in Greenwich.

The friends, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, believe that Emwazi started to radicalize after a planned safari in Tanzania following his graduation from the University of Westminster.

Emwazi and two friends — a German convert to Islam named Omar and another man, Abu Talib — never made it on the trip.

Once they landed in Dar es Salaam, in May 2009, they were detained by police and held overnight. It’s unclear whether the reason for the detention was made clear to the three, but they were eventually deported.

Emwazi flew to Amsterdam, where he claimed that an officer from MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, accused him of trying to reach Somalia, where the militant group al-Shabab operates in the southern part of the country, according to e-mails that he sent to Qureshi and that were provided to The Post.

[Read: A Brooklyn mother’s struggle to keep her son from Islamic State]

Emwazi denied the accusation and claimed that MI5 representatives had tried to recruit him. But a former hostage said Jihadi John was obsessed with Somalia and made his captives watch videos about al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaeda.

The episode was described in the Independent, a British newspaper, which identified Emwazi as Muhammad ibn Muazzam.

Emwazi and his friends were allowed to return to Britain, where he met with Qureshi in the fall of 2009 to discuss what had happened. “Mohammed was quite incensed by his treatment, that he had been very unfairly treated,” Qureshi said.

Shortly afterward, Emwazi decided to move to his birthplace, Kuwait, where he landed a job working for a computer company, according to the e-mails he wrote to Qureshi. He came back to London twice, the second time to finalize his wedding plans to a woman in Kuwait.

In June 2010, however, counterterrorism officials in Britain detained him again — this time fingerprinting him and searching his belongings. When he tried to fly back to Kuwait the next day, he was prevented from doing so.

“I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started,” he wrote in a June 2010 e-mail to Qureshi. But now “I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London. A person imprisoned & controlled by security service men, stopping me from living my new life in my birthplace & country, Kuwait.”

Nearly four months later, when a court in New York sentenced Aafia Siddiqui, an al-Qaeda operative convicted for the attempted murder of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, Emwazi expressed sympathy for her, saying he had “heard the upsetting news regarding our sister. . . . This should only keep us firmer towards fighting for freedom and justice!!!”

In the interview, Qureshi said he last heard from Emwazi in January 2012, when Emwazi sent him an e-mail seeking advice.

“This is a young man who was ready to exhaust every single kind of avenue within the machinery of the state to bring a change for his personal situation,” Qureshi said.

In the end, he felt “actions were taken to criminalize him and he had no way to do something against these actions.”

Close friends of Emwazi’s also said his situation in London had made him desperate to leave the country. It’s unclear exactly when he reached Syria or how.

One friend said he believed Emwazi wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia to teach English in 2012 but was unsuccessful. Soon afterward, the friend said, he was gone.

“He was upset and wanted to start a life elsewhere,” one of the friends said. “He at some stage reached the point where he was really just trying to find another way to get out.”

Once in Syria, Emwazi contacted his family and at least one of his friends. It’s unclear what he told them about his activities there.

A former hostage who was debriefed by officials upon release said that Jihadi John was part of a team guarding Western captives at a prison in Idlib, Syria, in 2013.

The hostages nicknamed the facility “the box.” Emwazi was joined by two other men with British accents, including one who was dubbed “George.” A former hostage said Emwazi participated in the waterboarding of four Western hostages (a technique accepted by the US as legal torture).

Former hostages described George as the leader of the trio. Jihadi John, they said, was quiet and intelligent. “He was the most deliberate,” a former hostage said.

Beginning in early 2014, the hostages were moved to a prison in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, where they were visited often by the trio. They appeared to have taken on more powerful roles within the Islamic State.

About the same time, Qureshi said, he sent an e-mail to Emwazi.

“I was wondering if you could send me your number,” he wrote. “Inshallah [God willing] it will be good to catch up.”

There was no response.

Goldman reported from Washington. Julie Tate in Washington and Griff Witte and Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.

 

 

Learning He Has Terminal Cancer: Oliver Sacks

A Month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health.

At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver.

Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

My Own Life

I feel grateful that I have been granted 9 years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying.

The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me.

I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.

In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776.

He titled it “My Own Life.”

I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love.

In that time, I have published 5 books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued,

“I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume.

While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.”

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective.

There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night.

I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment

I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries.

My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself.

There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear.

But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Can technology solve our big problems? Very doubtful

So, we used to solve big problems.

On July 21st, 1969, Buzz Aldrin climbed out of Apollo 11’s lunar module and descended onto the Sea of Tranquility.  Aldrin, following the death of Armstrong last year, is now the most senior of the 12 who went to the moon.

Armstrong and Aldrin were alone, but their presence on the moon’s grey surface was the culmination of a convulsive, collective effort.

The Apollo program was the greatest peacetime mobilization in the history of the United States. To get to the moon, NASA spent around 180 billion dollars in today’s money, or 4% of the federal budget.

Apollo employed around 400,000 people and demanded the collaboration of 20,000 companies, universities and government agencies.

People died, including the crew of Apollo 1. But before the Apollo program ended, 24 men flew to the moon.

Why did they go?

They didn’t bring much back: 841 pounds of old rocks, and something all 24 later emphasized — a new sense of the smallness and the fragility of our common home.

Why did they go? The cynical answer is they went because President Kennedy wanted to show the Soviets that his nation had the better rockets. But Kennedy’s own words at Rice University in 1962 provide a better clue.

(Video) John F. Kennedy:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon. (Applause) We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Jason Pontin: To contemporaries, Apollo wasn’t only a victory of West over East in the Cold War. At the time, the strongest emotion was of wonder at the transcendent powers of technology.

They went because it was a big thing to do. Landing on the moon occurred in the context of a long series of technological triumphs.

The first half of the 20th century produced the assembly line and the airplane, penicillin and a vaccine for tuberculosis.

In the middle years of the century, polio was eradicated and smallpox eliminated (They are back with vigor).

Technology itself seemed to possess what Alvin Toffler in 1970 called “accelerative thrust.” For most of human history, we could go no faster than a horse or a boat with a sail, but in 1969, the crew of Apollo 10 flew at 25,000 miles an hour.

Since 1970, no human beings have been back to the moon.

No one has traveled faster than the crew of Apollo 10, and blithe optimism about technology’s powers has evaporated as big problems we had imagined technology would solve, such as going to Mars, creating clean energy, curing cancer, or feeding the world have come to seem intractably hard.

I remember watching the liftoff of Apollo 17. I was five years old, and my mother told me not to stare at the fiery exhaust of a Saturn V rocket.

I vaguely knew this was to be the last of the moon missions, but I was absolutely certain there would be Mars colonies in my lifetime.

 So “Something happened to our capacity to solve big problems with technology has become a commonplace. You hear it all the time.

We’ve heard it over the last two days here at TED.

It feels as if technologists have diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys, with things like iPhones and apps and social media, or algorithms that speed automated trading.

There’s nothing wrong with most of these things. They’ve expanded and enriched our lives. But they don’t solve humanity’s big problems.

What happened?

There is a parochial explanation in Silicon Valley, which admits that it has been funding less ambitious companies than it did in the years when it financed Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Genentech.

Silicon Valley says the markets are to blame, in particular the incentives that venture capitalists offer to entrepreneurs.

Silicon Valley says that venture investing shifted away from funding transformational ideas and towards funding incremental problems or even fake problems.

But I don’t think that explanation is good enough. It mostly explains what’s wrong with Silicon Valley.

Even when venture capitalists were at their most risk-happy, they preferred small investments, tiny investments that offered an exit within 10 years. V.C.s have always struggled to invest profitably in technologies such as energy whose capital requirements are huge and whose development is long and lengthy, and V.C.s have never, never funded the development of technologies meant to solve big problems that possess no immediate commercial value.

No, the reasons we can’t solve big problems are more complicated and more profound.

Sometimes we choose not to solve big problems.

We could go to Mars if we want.

NASA even has the outline of a plan. But going to Mars would follow a political decision with popular appeal, and that will never happen. We won’t go to Mars, because everyone thinks there are more important things to do here on Earth.

Sometimes, we can’t solve big problems because our political systems fail.

Today, less than 2% of the world’s energy consumption derives from advanced, renewable sources such as solar, wind and biofuels, less than two percent, and the reason is purely economic.

Coal and natural gas are cheaper than solar and wind, and petroleum is cheaper than biofuels. We want alternative energy sources that can compete on price. None exist.

Now, technologists, business leaders and economists all basically agree on what national policies and international treaties would spur the development of alternative energy: mostly, a significant increase in energy research and development, and some kind of price on carbon.

But there’s no hope in the present political climate that we will see U.S. energy policy or international treaties that reflect that consensus.

Sometimes, big problems that had seemed technological turn out not to be so.

Famines were long understood to be caused by failures in food supply. But 30 years of research have taught us that famines are political crises that catastrophically affect food distribution.

Technology can improve things like crop yields or systems for storing and transporting food, but there will be famines so long as there are bad governments.

Finally, big problems sometimes elude solution because we don’t really understand the problem.

President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, but we soon discovered there are many kinds of cancer, most of them fiendishly resistant to therapy, and it is only in the last 10 years that effective, viable therapies have come to seem real. Hard problems are hard.

It’s not true that we can’t solve big problems through technology. We can, we must, but these four elements must all be present:

1. Political leaders and the public must care to solve a problem;

2. institutions must support its solution;

3. It must really be a technological problem; and

4. we must understand it.

The Apollo mission, which has become a kind of metaphor for technology’s capacity to solve big problems, met these criteria. But it is an irreproducible model for the future. It is not 1961.

There is no galvanizing contest like the Cold War, no politician like John Kennedy who can heroize the difficult and the dangerous, and no popular science fictional mythology such as exploring the solar system.

Most of all, going to the moon turned out to be easy. It was just three days away. And arguably it wasn’t even solving much of a problem.

We are left alone with our day, and the solutions of the future will be harder won. God knows, we don’t lack for the challenges.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

February 2015
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