Foley’s British Executioner

by Dish Staff

The unidentified jihadist who murdered James Foley in the video released yesterday spoke fluent English with a London accent, likely placing him among the hundreds of UK citizens who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join up with ISIS. That revelation could motivate the UK to step up its involvement in the fight against the Islamic State:

“We’ve been saying for a very long time that there are significant numbers of British nationals in Syria, increasingly in Iraq, and one of the reasons why what is going on in Syria and Iraq is a direct threat to our own national security is the presence of significant numbers of our nationals who may at some stage seek to come back to the UK with the skills, the tradecraft that they’ve learned working with these terrorist organisations, potentially posing a threat to our domestic security here in the UK,” [Foreign Secretary Philip] Hammond said.

Hammond said Britain was committed to helping the Iraqi government fight Isis and that, although the Iraqi government “has made it clear that it does not need and actually wouldn’t welcome western boots on the ground”, it did want help with surveillance and technological equipment. Asked if Britain would send soldiers to Iraq to train Iraqi forces, Hammond said this was “certainly something that we would consider”.

Josh Halliday rounds up some expert analysis of why the killer’s nationality is significant:

Prof Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said the militant was chosen to front the video to cause maximum impact in the west.

“This is significant because it signifies a turn towards threatening the west. They are saying we’re going to come after you if you bomb us,” he said. Neumann said British fighters had been carrying out “horrific acts” like beheadings, torture and executions for a year and a half, but this appeared to be the first with a western victim. …

Dr Erin Saltman, a senior researcher at Quilliam Foundation, said the footage was geared towards disaffected Islamist extremists in the west who would be able to empathise with the British-accented militant. “The video is quite a shock mainly because the two characters are an American and a Briton. That’s done very deliberately,” she said. “As soon as you have a fighter with a Middle East accent it becomes very easy to disassociate with that and say they’re brutal, they’re barbaric. But when you have a British citizen, raised in the UK, this is somebody we can empathise with.”

Jihadism expert Shiraz Maher calls British jihadists “amongst some of the most vicious and vociferous fighters who are out there”:

Maher warned that the self-proclaimed caliphate was likely to carry out more atrocities because of western efforts to help people in the region. “Unfortunately, the way the Foley video is framed, it makes it very clear now that IS (Isis) will react against any western involvement or intervention into the conflicts either in Syria or Iraq and that, of course, given that we are now helping minorities in Iraq – the Yazidis, the Kurds, for example – they regard that not just as an assault on them but they regard that ultimately as a declaration of war against Islam itself.

“And therefore, that is the sort of narrative we have, of course, heard from al-Qaida in the past. That will license them to attack targets and individuals and western interests as they see fit.” Maher said British and other Sunni Muslims initially went to Syria because of an “existential threat” to their faith from Shia Muslims, and their presence has since swelled Isis ranks and allowed it to increase its territory and influence.

Ed Morrissey responds to the possibility that the executioner or his compatriots may be former Guantánamo Bay detainees:

The orange jumpsuits are obviously referencing Guantanamo Bay, but the British seem concerned that there’s more than just symbolism now in play with ISIS. The US began releasing British subjects from Gitmo during the Bush administration under international pressure to shut down the facility, as well as releasing other detainees to their home countries, all of whom pledged to ensure that they would not return to the fight. We’ve seen plenty of recidivism since then, and all to this same end — to rejoin the jihad against the West and the nations in this region, and to recruit others to do the same.

It won’t be a surprise if the jihadist turns out to be a former Gitmo detainee, but it is a bit of a surprise that the UK doesn’t keep a close enough watch on those former detainees to account for their whereabouts immediately. After all, they have already been identified as threats, picked up in the battle zones far from home, which is how they ended up in Gitmo in the first place.