James Foley 'beheaded': PM cuts holiday short for emergency meeting on British response to latest Isis atrocity

The journalist's killer could be one of a 'significant number' of British jihadists

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 20 August 2014 20:23
The video shows a man, thought to be James Foley, kneeling in front of a black-clad militant
The video shows a man, thought to be James Foley, kneeling in front of a black-clad militant

The Government has warned that the Islamic State (Isis) could launch international terrorist attacks if it becomes established in Iraq and Syria and its British members could bring jihad back home if they are defeated.

David Cameron has arrived back at Downing Street after cutting short his holiday to lead the Government's response to the murder of the American journalist James Foley and the escalating crisis in the region.

A No 10 spokeswoman called the beheading "shocking and depraved" and said the Prime Minister is meeting with the Foreign Secretary and senior officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office and the agencies to discuss the situation.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said Isis was not just a threat to Syria and Iraq, where it has killed countless civilians and caused thousands of people to flee in terror, but to our own national security.

“If Isis becomes established in Iraq and Syria it will undoubtedly use it as a base for launching attacks on the West,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

"It will undoubtedly send its fighters out to attack Western targets.

“Equally, if it gets pushed back, some of these people will return to their country of origin and it’s not just the UK.

“We will see these people going back and potentially carrying on their fight in our homelands.”

Mr Hammond said it was “far too late” to worry about the consequences of effectively waging war on Isis, who are believed to have beheaded Mr Foley in revenge for US air strikes against militants in Iraq.

“We oppose them with every breath in our body,” he added.

“Isis are waging war on moderate Islamic opinion and they are waging war on the West and we have to deal with them on that basis.”

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called Isis 'evil' and said the UK would oppose them with 'every breath in our body'

The former Defence Secretary said Britain would supply weapons, technical support, intelligence and surveillance at the request of Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling against the jihadists.

He did not rule out the possibility that soldiers would be sent to Iraq for training purposes but said he did not view this as “boots on the ground” and insisted they would not be involved in combat.

He called the apparent beheading of Mr Foley, who was abducted while reporting on the Syrian civil war in 2012, “one more example in a catalogue of brutality” by Isis.

American intelligence agencies have not yet verified the video but Mr Foley’s family appeared to accept he had been killed on Tuesday night, saying he “gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people”.

The Foreign Secretary told BBC Breakfast “all the hallmarks point to it being genuine” and acknowledged that the killer sounded British, prompting an urgent investigation by experts.

“Certainly at first pass that's what it looks like and we will obviously want to investigate that further,” he added.

"We have been saying for a long time that there are a significant number of British nationals in Syria and Iraq operating with extremist organisations.

“That's one of the reasons why this organisation represents such a direct threat to the UK's national security.

"Many of these people may seek at some point to return to the UK and they would then pose a direct threat to our domestic security."

Mr Hammond said the Government believed British nationals in Syria were “involved in terrible crimes” and committing atrocities with Isis and other Islamist groups.

The apparent beheading of Mr Foley was terrible but did not change the ongoing British operation to tackle people travelling abroad to join terrorist groups, he said.

“I don’t think this video changes anything,” he added. “It just heightens awareness of a situation that is very grave and that we’ve been working on for many months.”

A map showing IS-led Sunni rebel activity (Source: Institute for the Study of War 2014)

Read more: Profile of the American journalist abducted by Islamist militants in Syria

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments