The British Group With A Very Different Take On 'Jihadi John' : Parallels Cage is a controversial group founded by a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. It has presented a sympathetic portrait of "Jihadi John," drawing criticism that it defends terror.

The British Group With A Very Different Take On 'Jihadi John'

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

New details are emerging daily about Mohammed Emwazi. He's the masked man known as Jihadi John who appears in execution videos by the self-declared Islamic State. And organization in London called Cage has become central to his story. The group advocates for people who say they have been mistreated in the war on terror. The director of Cage is a former Guantanamo detainee. NPR's Ari Shapiro has more on this controversial organization.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: As soon as Mohammed Emwazi's identity was revealed last week, Cage called a press conference here in London.

ASIM QURESHI: The Mohammed that I knew was extremely kind, extremely gentle, extremely soft-spoken.

SHAPIRO: Cage's research director, Asim Qureshi, said he first met the Kuwaiti-born Londoner in 2009. And Qureshi implied that British security services drove Emwazi to radicalism by harassing him, trying to recruit him and preventing him from visiting his fiancee in Kuwait.

QURESHI: We have created here in the U.K. an environment in which the security agencies can act with impunity, can destroy the lives of young people.

SHAPIRO: Intelligence officials say Emwazi tried to join the terrorist group al-Shabab before security services ever confronted him. After the press conference, Cage released piles of information about Emwazi - emails and recorded interviews where Emwazi describes his interactions with British intelligence services.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAMMED EMWAZI: He started telling me, what do you think of 9/11? I told him, this is a wrong thing. What happened was wrong. You know, what - would you want to say it?

SHAPIRO: Cage says it is trying to explain Emwazi's path. To critics, it sounds like the group is trying to justify his behavior. On Tuesday, London Mayor Boris Johnson attacked a spokesman for the group on a radio show.

MAYOR BORIS JOHNSON: The focus of your indignation should be on people who throw gays off cliffs, that behead people who don't subscribe to their version of Islam, that glorify in the execution of innocent journalists. They should be the object of your wrath, not the security services.

SHAPIRO: Members of Cage say they do not support ISIS and have in fact vocally argued for the release of hostages. Spokesman Cerie Bullivant told me the group worked in public and behind the scenes on the case of Alan Henning. But then he gave this description of the way ISIS treated the British aid worker.

CERIE BULLIVANT: If you want to put what happened to Alan Henning into modern security parlance, he was rendered from the convoy. Then he suffered enhanced interrogation techniques. And then he was dispatched by executive order. And for us, it's just as illegal when ISIS do it as when the CIA do it.

SHAPIRO: That may sound deliberately provocative. Bullivant says what sounds outrageous to many people helps Cage build bridges to groups that feel alienated from Western society.

BULLIVANT: The reason we have all of the primary sources in so many stories is because the community trusts us to come to us and tell them what's going on.

SHAPIRO: For many, it's a bridge too far. Gita Sahgal runs a human rights group called the Center for Secular Space.

GITA SAHGAL: This is active promotion of a certain form of jihadism.

SHAPIRO: Sahgal publicly resigned from a senior position at Amnesty International over the group's association with Cage. She says the Cage website glorifies some of the most senior figures in al-Qaida.

SAHGAL: And so there was an atmosphere where you were basically bound to see these not simply as people who were facing human rights violations, but people who should be listened to and followed. That's very, very disturbing.

SHAPIRO: Sahgal left Amnesty in 2010. Amnesty's director for Europe and Central Asia put out a statement this week saying we are currently undergoing a review of our policy regarding any future association with the group Cage. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London.

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