November 19, 2015 7:24 AM EST

‘Jihadi John,’ the British ISIS militant who was widely believed to be Mohammed Emwazi, must have known this was how his Syrian adventure would end: with his death near his new hometown of Raqqa. Emwazi, who appeared, masked, in videos showing the beheadings of hostages, was targeted in a Nov. 12 U.S. air strike that is believed by American and British intelligence to have succeeded.

It’s unlikely to be much of a blow. Yes, ISIS’s loss of its gory social-media star is embarrassing. But PR men are cheap.

Schoolmates of Emwazi’s told me he was just an ordinary boy, but shy and very easily led. Like many other jihadis, he went to Syria in search of license and adventure as much as to propagate any religion. He lived by the showy, medieval sword, and likely died by it. His tragedy was that no one told him the obvious: to get a grip.


Harkin is the author of Hunting Season: James Foley, ISIS, and the Kidnapping Campaign That Started a War

This appears in the November 30, 2015 issue of TIME.

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