Shortly after skipping bail and slipping out of Britain to travel to Syria 15 months ago, Siddhartha Dhar published an e-book comparing the Caliphate declared by Isis to a “plush holiday resort”. Across 46 pages, the British jihadist eulogised about attractions from the quality of its coffee to the diversity of its inhabitants.
The online brochure, published last May, was dismissed as a risible, rose-tinted attempt at propaganda to attract new recruits to the terror group. But what went less noticed was the final paragraph written by the father-of-four from east London who had become a familiar figure in fringe Islamic circles prior to fleeing Britain in 2014.
The 32-year-old wrote: “When we descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington the taste will be far bitterer, because not only will we spill your blood, but we will also demolish your statues, erase your history and, most painfully, convert your children who will then go on to champion our name and curse their forefathers.”
It was a glimpse of the more poisonous views held by Dhar, a British-Indian Muslim convert who now goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Rumaysah and has found himself as a key suspect in the efforts to identify the masked gunman who threatens Britain and taunts David Cameron as an “imbecile” in an execution video released by Isis on Sunday afternoon.
As intelligence officers on both sides of the Atlantic deployed the latest techniques and voice recognition software in their efforts to unmask the English-accented Isis talisman filmed apparently executing one of five alleged British spies, it was widely suggested that the terror group’s new figurehead is a former bouncy castle salesman from Walthamstow well known to police and the security services.
Dhar, who was raised as a Hindu, disappeared from Britain in November 2014 following his arrest along with eight others on suspicion of encouraging terrorism and support of the banned Islamist group, Al Muhajiroun. The convert had been interviewed on several television networks, including the BBC and America’s CBS, as a representative of militant Islam and a frequent presence at protests headed by the controversial preacher Anjem Choudary.
When he was released on bail with orders to surrender his passport, Dhar simply boarded a bus to Paris with his then pregnant wife and young children en route to Syria. Once in Isis territory he posted a number of social media messages taunting police and MI5. One tweet read: “What a shoddy security system Britain must have to allow me to breeze through Europe to the Islamic State.”
Mr Cameron dismissed the Isis video, which appeared to unveil a new spokesman emulating the style and appearance of Mohammed Emwazi or so-called “Jihadi John”, as “desperate stuff”. Speaking on a visit to east London, the Prime Minister said: “This is an organisation that’s losing territory, it’s losing ground, it’s… increasingly losing anybody’s sympathy, and this again shows what an appalling organisation we’re up against.”
Several of those who had met and interviewed Dhar prior to his disappearance said there were considerable similarities in tone of voice and appearance between him and the man in the video now inevitably dubbed the “new Jihadi John”. Emwazi was killed in an American drone strike in November after being filmed beheading at least six Isis hostages.
In previous postings and videos from Syria, Dhar has issued a detailed defence of Emwazi, saying the executioner was “justified in his position”, and also stating that he could not “see an end” to the murder of hostages or captives.
One source familiar with Dhar told The Independent: “There is no doubt in my mind that it is him. From his eyes and the shape of his face to the way he pronounces certain words, it can only be him. The seeds of extremism were within him but it is no less shocking if this is what he has become.”
The sister of the jihadi said she did not believe the masked executioner was her brother but vowed to “kill him myself” if he was indeed shown to be the killer.
Konika Dhar, from Edmonton, north London, said she had had no contact with her brother in more than a year, adding: “If it is him, bloody hell am I shocked? I am going to kill him myself. He is going to come back and I’m going to kill him if he has done this.”
The Briton, who posted a picture of himself cradling his newborn son while brandishing an AK-47 soon after arriving in Syria, is believed to have converted from Hinduism to Islam around a decade ago and been involved with several organisations, including Al Muhajiroun before it was banned in 2010.
The group’s meetings were also attended by Michael Adebolajo, one of the men convicted of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby and who is also thought to have known Dhar.
The grandfather of a small boy whose daughter disappeared to Syria in 2012 said that he believed his six-year-old grandson, Isa, also appears in the new execution video.
Henry Dare, the father of Grace “Khadijah” Dare, told the Daily Telegraph, that he recognised the child recorded saying jihadists will kill “unbelievers”. His daughter, who is claimed to have also known Adebolajo through a south-east London mosque, has previously posted on social media that she wanted to be the first British woman to kill an Isis hostage.
Scotland Yard have declined to comment on the progress of its efforts to confirm the identity of the new Isis executioner, saying only that counter-terrorism officers were assessing the video’s contents.
But experts questioned whether the ten-minute film, which included the purported confessions of five Arabic-speaking men to having been spies for British intelligence, could be interpreted as a sign of the terror group’s weakness.
Raffaeolo Pantucci, of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said: “I think if anything the video shows an organisation that remains fairly confident of its abilities. The release on a Sunday was clearly timed to ensure it directed the news cycle. This is the first official Isis response to Britain’s involvement in air strikes on Syria - the group is setting out its agenda for the year.”