LONDON: British authorities launched a hunt on Wednesday for a man with an English accent who appeared in an Islamic State (IS) video purporting to show what Prime Minister David Cameron called the “barbaric and brutal” beheading of an American journalist.
A masked IS jihadist, dressed in black, who stood next to a kneeling James Foley in the video released online spoke with what sounded like a London accent.
The case had echoes of the brutal 2013 murder of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in a London street in broad daylight by two British Muslim converts, and of beheadings staged in the early years of the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq a decade ago.
It also renewed the focus on the number of young Britons willing to fight in Syria and Iraq.
“If confirmed, this brutal murder shows the broader danger of British citizens going out to Syria, where they can be drawn into extremist groups and get involved in what can only be described as barbaric acts,” said a British security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Cameron, who interrupted his holiday to return to London, said he was shocked that it appeared a British citizen had been behind the killing.
“Let me condemn completely the barbaric and brutal act that has taken place,” he told broadcasters. “It is an act of murder.”
Britain, which has about 2.7 million Muslims in its 63 million population, has warned of the dangers from its nationals travelling to foreign militant training camps after four young British Islamists killed 52 people in suicide bomb attacks on London in July 2005.
Two of the four had been to al Qaeda camps in Pakistan.
In February this year, Islamist fighters released a video of what they said was a British man carrying out a suicide bombing on a prison in Aleppo, and several young British nationals have reportedly been killed overseas in fighting this year.
Security experts told Reuters that officials would be able to narrow down their search for the man through the few facts they already have, including his voice, height and eyes.
They will also search through travel records, social media entries and intelligence contacts within British communities to identify him. “If you think back to 10 years ago, we were going through similar situations when there were previous victims, and it also isn’t new to see British nationals there,” said a former senior counter-terrorism official.
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