‘Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of a Terrorist’ Review

When we think of terrorist groups, we usually visualize a shadowy, faceless group, dressed in black, while carrying out unspeakable acts of violence. Director Anthony Wonke and writer Richard Kerbaj take a completely different approach – one we haven’t really seen before. “Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of a Terrorist” is a personal profile of one of the worst terrorists of all time, as well as a look at the marketing that goes into ISIS recruiting, and the international intelligence used to track the most organized of the terrorist groups.

Masked men in movies and TV shows are typically the bad guys – think cattle rustlers and bank robbers. In these stories, a covered face is often the mark of person evil enough to wreak havoc, yet cowardly enough to avoid being identified. In real life, it’s pretty much the same. The world was horrified in 2014 when terrorists began beheading hostages and posting the videos on social media. The executioner was cloaked in black and, you guessed it, his face was covered. His organization was identified as ISIS, or the Islamic State.

British intelligence agents are quite forthcoming as they explain that although al-Qaeda was well known at the time, ISIS/ISIL was a new “brand,” and a horrific one at that. They also explain that despite not being able to see the executioner’s face, they were able to identify him by his hands and voice as Mohammed Enwazi, a young British man with a degree in Information Systems who was a previous ‘person of interest.’ It was chilling to see the first video and the ones that followed. The hostage was required to read a prepared statement and then the execution was carried out. The international news media nicknamed the executioner Jihadi John after learning that the hostages were referring to four ISIS militants with British accents as “The Beatles.”

The film dives into Enwazi’s background as a kid. It seemed to be the relatively normal childhood of a youngster who enjoyed sports and pop music. We learn that officials had identified him as a risk, and had tried to convert him to working for the country rather than ISIS. It’s fascinating to learn from his influencers. We hear directly from one of his teachers, and also from hostages and the family members of those tragically impacted by the executions.

A widespread propaganda machine is exposed – the surgical target marketing efforts used by ISIS, including recruiting videos for specific sub-sets. The organization was well funded and well-structured, making it all the more dangerous. A religious backlash occurred and we learn that many in British and American intelligence circles view the takedown of ISIS as a personal mission. The incredible and devastating video clips include the precision drone strike in Syria that ended the run of Jihadi John. During that brief moment, the world had a bit less evil.