Report from The Londan Times
MI5 and MI6 have identified the British fighter suspected of murdering the American journalist James Foley, senior government sources confirmed last night.
The masked man with a London accent, who is said to be known to fellow fighters as the beheader “Jihadi John”, was seen in the shocking video of Foley’s death released by the Isis extremist army last week.
While sources gave no details of the man they have identified, a key suspect is Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 23, who left his family’s £1m home in Maida Vale, west London, last year. He recently tweeted a picture of himself holding up a severed head.
Writing in The Sunday Times today Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, says Isis is “turning a swathe of Iraq and Syria into a terrorist state as a base for launching attacks on the West”. Unless the terrorists are stopped, he warns that “sooner or later they will seek to strike us on British soil”.
Hammond accuses Foley’s killer of “an utter betrayal” of everything the British people stand for. “It is horrifying to think that the perpetrator of this heinous act could have been brought up in Britain,” he writes.
Hammond says Foley’s death “is a reminder to us all that Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria is not only causing huge suffering in those countries but is also a barbaric ideology threatening us at home”.
The intelligence agencies and police estimate that up to 20 British extremists a month are now travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight with Isis.
The rate has risen since Isis declared a “caliphate” eight weeks ago.
In other developments yesterday:
US officials said that America may carry out drone strikes on Isis leaders in Syria as it steps up its activities in the country and could also provide more help for moderate rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Pentagon sources claimed that President Barack Obama had agonised for weeks over whether to authorise a mission to rescue Foley and other foreign hostages. Delta Force commandos finally launched the mission on July 4 but the hostages had been moved.
“They were ready to go in June to grab the guy [Foley] and they weren’t permitted,” said Anthony Shaffer, a former lieutenant colonel who worked on covert operations.
Downing Street sources said the government will examine in the “medium term” whether to toughen up restrictions over the movements of British extremists, including reintroducing a form of Labour’s control orders.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said those returning from fighting in the Middle East should be forced to take part in compulsory de-radicalisation programmes, even if they cannot be charged with a criminal offence.
A YouGov poll found that 68% of respondents think the law should be changed to give the government power to strip British-born fighters of their citizenship. Such a step would render them “stateless”.
Hammond’s comments are the most explicit warning yet from a British cabinet minister about the risk of an attack against this country from jihadists fighting with Isis.
The government, he writes, is “investing significant resources to tackle this problem for the long term” and to disrupt Isis’s ability “to organise, raise funds and attack us here in Britain”.
While “we must support the overwhelming majority of British Muslims who are moderate, law-abiding people with values and morals we all share… we should be in no doubt that we have a vital national interest in tackling the threat from Isis,” he said.
Government sources last night insisted that while the option of British airstrikes on the jihadists remains on the table, they “are not being actively considered or proposed at this stage”.
Military planners are, however, drawing up plans to deploy scores of British troops to help train a “substantial” number of Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga fighters.
Training will focus on the use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, mortars and Milan anti-tank weapons. Sources say the MoD is exploring the possibility of establishing training camps in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and in Baghdad, although the high security risk means the training could take place in Jordan or the UK.
Hammond revealed that more than 300 British military personnel have contributed to aid missions over Iraq, with the RAF flying 180 hours of sorties to gather intelligence and deliver 80 tons of supplies to refugees.
The RAF has been shipping weapons to the Kurds for a fortnight, with another flight planned this week.
A military transport aircraft will fly to an undisclosed eastern European country where it will collect a cargo of rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and a small number of armoured vehicles. The government will also directly supply night vision equipment and body armour in the coming days.