The U.S. military says it is "reasonably certain" that it killed "Jihadi John," the notorious British Islamic State militant who appeared in videos depicting the murder of Western hostages, in an airstrike in Syria.
Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said officials believe a drone strike on a car late Thursday hit its intended target and that two people were killed.
He said final verification is needed to determine if the people killed were "Jihadi John" and the driver. No other high-value terrorist targets were killed, he said.
"Jihadi John," identified by Western intelligence agencies as Mohamed Emwazi, was targeted while apparently riding in the car in the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. Top U.S. officials have described the strike as a clean hit on the vehicle.
The Kuwait-born Emwazi, who has British citizenship, has been one of the top targets of Western intelligence agencies since he appeared in videos depicting the beheadings and other killings of Western hostages.
Emwazi engaged in "barbarism," Warren said. The colonel said killing the terrorist would be significant because he was "somewhat of an IS celebrity," noting that his death would be a "blow" to the extremist group's prestige.
"He was a primary recruitment tool for the organization," Warren said. "He was a human animal and killing him is probably making the world a little better place."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on a diplomatic trip to Tunisia, said officials are still assessing the results of the airstrike. "But the terrorists associated with Daesh (Islamic State) need to know this, your days are numbered, and you will be defeated," he said. "There is no future, no path forward for Daesh (Islamic State) which does not lead ultimately to its elimination, its destruction."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian war, said Friday its sources indicate a senior British Islamic State member was among four militants killed in a U.S.-led airstrike.
However, the Britain-based Observatory could not confirm that the militant killed was "Jihadi John."
'Strike at the heart of ISIL'
British Prime Minister David Cameron also said Friday he cannot confirm Emwazi's death, but nonetheless thanked the U.S. for its efforts in carrying out the attack.
"If this strike was successful, and we still await confirmation of that, it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL," said Cameron, using an acronym for the extremist group.
The Kuwait-born Emwazi has been one of the top targets of Western intelligence agencies since he appeared in several videos depicting the gruesome beheadings and other killings of Western hostages.
Among those killed in the videos were 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 others.
In the videos, "Jihadi John" was clad in black with a mask covering all but his eyes. He was publicly identified in several media reports earlier this year.
Friends and acquaintances say Emwazi grew up in a well-to-do London family and attended state schools before studying computer programming in college.
Emwazi, believed to be in his mid-20s, began to radicalize in the past few years after trips to Africa and the Middle East, according to several sources.