Executioners also die

Mohammed Emwazi, the man who beheaded several ISIS prisoners with a knife in those shocking videos, is believed to have been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Raqqa, Syria.

It is not certain that the operation got its target (during a press briefing, British Prime Minister Cameron alternated between speaking about Emwazi in the past and the present tenses). However, the BBC, citing a “senior military source,” reported Friday that there is a “high degree of certainty” Emwazi was hit in the attack. And one official called the strike a “clean hit” in which Emwazi basically “evaporated.” Hopefully, the evaporatee was, indeed, Emwazi.

Emwazi was identified as the executioner of American journalist James Foley. He is also believed to have executed Steven Sotloff, another American journalist; Abdul-Rahman Kassig, an American aid worker; David Haines and Alan Henning, both British aid workers; and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.

He is not thought to have had a leadership role in ISIS. Thus, his death (assuming he was killed) is not a structural blow to the terrorist outfit. However, it strikes a blow for justice. And it may carry symbolic value, demonstrating that, far from invincible, the terrorists who provide the (masked) face of ISIS aren’t destined to be with us for very long.

If the operation killed Emwazi, it’s an impressive accomplishment. But in my view, we should be using air power to try to decimate the ranks of ISIS. Potential recruits should not believe they can avoid being targeted by staying out of ISIS videos.

NOTE: The title of this post is a reference to the classic movie “Hangmen Also Die.” Filmed in 1943 and directed by the great Fritz Lang (from a story by Berthold Brect), it is loosely based on the assassination in Prague of Reinhard Heydrich, the German Reich’s head man in what is now the Czech Republic and a leading architect of the Holocaust.

In the film, the assassination is carried out by a member of the local Czech resistance with ties to the Communist party. In reality, it was performed by resistance fighters parachuted into the country by the British under a plan developed by the government-in-exile (which the local resistance force was not enthusiastic about).

That’s Socialist realism, Hollywood style.

In the film, Walter Brennan plays a distinguished Czech history professor. And he just about pulls it off.