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Philip Hammond has described the apparent
beheading of a US journalist by an Islamic State
militant with a British accent as “an appalling
example of the brutality of this organisation”.
The foreign secretary said a video of the killing
appeared to be genuine.
He added that the government was aware of
“significant numbers” of British nationals involved
with extremist organisations overseas.
James Foley, 40, has been missing since he was
seized in Syria in 2012.
Hammond told BBC Breakfast that while the video,
which was posted online, had not been verified, “all
the hallmarks point to it being genuine”.
He acknowledged the militant spoke with a British
accent but said further analysis of the footage was
“We’re absolutely aware that there are significant
numbers of British nationals involved in terrible
crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities,
making jihad with Isil [now known as IS] and other
extremist organisations,” he said.
“This is something we have been tracking and dealing
with for many many months and I don’t think this
video changes anything.
“It just heightens awareness of a situation which is
very grave and which we’ve been working on for
It is estimated that IS, which has seized large parts of
northern Iraq and Syria, has up to 400 recruits from
the UK in its ranks.
Some 69 people suspected of Syria-related jihadist
activities have now been arrested in the UK.
Hammond said the involvement of British nationals
with extremist groups was one of the reasons that IS
“represents such a direct threat” to the UK’s security.
He added: “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.”
That would be especially likely if IS was “pushed
back”, leaving its foreign fighters to return to their
country of origin, said Hammond.
“We would see these people going back and
potentially carrying on their fighting in our own
homelands,” he added.
In the video, titled A Message to America, a man who
appears to be Foley is wearing an orange jumpsuit,
kneeling in desert-like terrain beside an armed man
dressed in black.
The masked militant, who speaks with a British
accent and identifies himself as an IS member, says
the journalist’s death is retaliation for US airstrikes
against IS targets in Iraq.
The foreign secretary felt “absolute horror” at the
“brutal execution”, he told BBC Radio 4′s Today
The White House said if the video was genuine, the
US would be “appalled by the murder of an innocent
Foley’s mother Diane said on Facebook she was
proud of her son, who had reported extensively
across the Middle East, working for America’s Global
Post and other media outlets including the French
news agency AFP.
“He gave his life trying to expose the world to the
suffering of the Syrian people,” she wrote.
Shiraz Maher, from King’s College London’s
International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation,
said that British IS recruits were “not there to take a
back seat role” and that many were becoming
He told Today: “Unfortunately the British
participation in the conflicts now raging in both Syria
and Iraq has been one of full participation, one that
has seen them at the front lines, taking part in the
conflict in every way.
“So we have seen British fighters out there operating
as suicide bombers; we have seen them operating as
“Unfortunately they are amongst some of the most
vicious and vociferous fighters who are out there.”