Was ’Jihadi John’ on Obama’s kill list?

British national Mohammed Emwazi, also known as 'Jihadi John' © SITE Intel Group
The White House declined to confirm whether a US strike near the de facto Islamic State capital of Raqqa actually killed the notorious executioner known as ‘Jihadi John,’ but said that President Barack Obama knew about the operation beforehand.

Identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a British national, the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) executioner gained notoriety by appearing in gruesome videos beheading Western hostages last year.

While referring the reporters to the Pentagon to confirm or deny the reports of Emwazi’s death in a US airstrike near Raqqa on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the strike was part of a consistent effort by Washington to target Islamic State leaders.

Calling Emwazi “an ISIL leader” and a “strategist” for the organization, someone who was “intimately involved” in the effort to recruit followers for the Islamic State cause, Earnest described him as “a target worth going after.”

“His ability to use social media to inspire and radicalize people around the globe meant that he was making a valuable contribution to ISIL,” the White House spokesman said, adding that Emwazi’s social media skills made him a threat “not just to the region, but to countries around the world.”

The strike that targeted Emwazi “did not rise to the level of operation that would require presidential approval,” Earnest said, when asked if the terrorist was on so called 'killed list' approved by the president. He added that the targeting of IS leadership was part of an ongoing US strategy in Syria and Iraq. President Obama was briefed about the strike, so he could communicate with the families of US hostages executed by IS before the news was made public, but was not otherwise involved in the process.

Diane Foley, whose son James was beheaded by ‘Jihadi John’ in August 2014, said she found little solace in Emwazi’s death.

“This huge effort to go after this deranged man filled with hate when they can’t make half that effort to save the hostages while those young Americans were still alive,” Foley told ABC News.

Introduced under President George W. Bush, the use of air strikes and drones to kill suspected terrorists has been ratcheted up by the Obama administration. The government avoids the term “assassination,” however, as that would be illegal under current US laws. Instead, drone and air strikes are called “targeted killings.”

In 2012, the New York Times revealed the existence of a kill list dubbed the “Disposition Matrix,” with the president and a number of administration officials meeting every few weeks to add to the list. The meetings were dubbed “Terror Tuesdays.”

In January 2015, a drone strike aimed at Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of two hostages, an American and an Italian, who had been held since 2011. The US government made the admission in April.

Last month, a whistleblower inside the US government leaked a cache of classified documents about the US military’s drone operations in Somalia and Yemen between 2011 and 2013. The documents showed the dubious methods used to put individuals on the target lists, and the high rate of civilian casualties classified as “enemy killed in action” unless specifically determined otherwise.

“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the whistleblower said.