Robert is an author and journalist specialising in extremism and education. His journalism appears in the Guardian, Independent, i newspaper, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times. In 2013 he was runner-up at the National Press Awards for the category of specialist journalist. Robert has also been long-listed for the Orwell Prize and the Paul Foot Award. In 2001 he was named law journalist of the year and has twice been runner-up.
Robert was the home affairs editor and law editor at The Independent, where he worked for 12 years. After leaving the Independent he joined the Mail on Sunday as security editor.
Since the 9.11 attacks on America, he has covered the ‘war on terror’ and has visited the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay and interviewed victims of torture in Syria. He has also headed media campaigns against ‘secret justice’ and in support of greater press freedoms. More recently he has been writing about the causes of extremism and social immobility.
In 2016 he wrote Jihadi John, the Making of a Terrorist, which traces Mohammed Emwazi’s path from London schoolboy to Islamic State executioner.
Posh Boys, How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain was published in July 2019 by Oneworld. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Posh-Boys-English-Schools-Britain/dp/1786073838
His latest book, Defiant: the Untold Story of the Battle of Britain, is published in June 2020. https://www.waterstones.com/book/defiant/robert-verkaik/978147214355
Robert is also a qualified non-practising barrister, called to Bar in 2007.
Jihadi John, the making of a terrorist. Published by Oneworld January 2016.
It was a defining moment, the first time ‘Jihadi John’ appeared. Suddenly Islamic State had a face and the whole world knew the extent of their savagery. Weeks later, when his identity was revealed, Robert Verkaik was shocked to realise that this was a man he’d interviewed years earlier. Back in 2010, Mohammed Emwazi was a twenty-one-year-old IT graduate who claimed the security services were ruining his life. They had repeatedly approached him, his family and his fiancée. Had they been tracking an already dangerous extremist or did they push him over the edge?
In the aftermath of the US air strike that killed Emwazi in November 2015, Verkaik’s investigation leads him to deeply troubling questions. What led Emwazi to come to him for help in the first place? And why do hundreds of Britons want to join Islamic State? In an investigation both frightening and urgent, Verkaik goes beyond the making of one terrorist to examine the radicalisation of our youth and to ask what we can do to stop it happening in future.
Jihadi John has been published in America, Australia, Japan, Holland and Finland and is now the subject of feature film commissioned by the BBC.
Sales: June 2016: 11,000 copies.
‘An exemplary account… The book’s most important contribution is to highlight the difficulties faced by the intelligence services… a first-class primer on Muslim extremism in Britain.’
– Max Hastings, Sunday Times
‘The chief strength of this book lies in its exploration of the radical subculture in parts of west London…The web of influences is complex but Verkaik skilfully unpicks I, while losing none of the atmosphere that makes his book so readable and engaging’.
– Shiraz Maher, New Statesman
‘Verkaik gives a fascinating if frightening picture of the jihadists in our midst’.
– Francis Wheen, Mail on Sunday
‘No detail is too small in Verkaik’s quest to work out how a “misfit schoolboy” turned into a “psychopathic mass murderer”.’
‘An outstanding pulling together of the fractured career of one of the most notorious terrorist psychopathic killers of this or any other age. The book is exceptional because its author makes no false claims for what he doesn’t know and never confuses explanation with explaining away… [an] excellent and thought-provoking book.’
– Robert Fox, Evening Standard
‘Highly readable book …….He does a fine job in putting together what is known about Emwazi.’
Andrew Anthony, the Observer.
This book is not a polemic and Verkaik doesn’t claim to give clear answers. He canvases a range of causes for radicalisation – simply being a young man at a loose end plays a disconcertingly large part – and reasons enough to conclude that it was Emwazi’s involvement in radical Islam that caused the police to take an interest in him, rather than the other way around.’
Sydney Morning Herald.
‘A riveting and compelling portrait of Mohammed Emwazi on his journey to the heart of darkness.’
– Andrew Hosken, author of Empire of Fear: Inside the Islamic State
‘Detailed and absorbing… Drawing on a wealth of primary conversations with security officials and targets alike, Verkaik explores the difficult balance that has to be struck between freedom and liberty and those who find themselves in its crosshairs.’
– Raffaello Pantucci, author of ‘We Love Death as You Love Life’: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen
‘This book is more than just the story of Mohammed Emwazi. Verkaik delves into the broader issues of marginality and the fluid identity of young people such as Emwazi to provide an enthralling account of the rootlessness of many second-generation European immigrants.’
– Library Journal, US.
‘Verkaik has a unique perspective on the evolution of Jihadi John’.
– Toronto Star
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