by Dish Staff
Out of respect for James Foley I will NEVER watch the video of his murder. This is how he should be remembered http://t.co/2BXE22MKp2—
Karim Lebhour (@KaLebhour) August 20, 2014
As an international manhunt got under way on Wednesday, the English-speaking militant was identified to the Guardian by one of his former hostages as the ringleader of three British jihadists thought to be the main guards of foreign nationals in Raqqa, a stronghold of Islamic State (Isis) rebels. The militant who appeared on the Foley video, who called himself John and is believed to be from London, was said to be the main rebel negotiator during talks earlier this year to release 11 Islamic State hostages – who were eventually handed to Turkish officials after ransom demands were met.
The FBI, MI5 and Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command were all on Wednesday night racing to identify the militant who fronted the propaganda video that showed the brutal murder of Foley, the journalist who had been missing in Syria since 2012. Sources in Syria recognised the man as a point-man for hostage negotiations in Raqqa, where he is said to have held discussions with several families of jailed foreign nationals over the internet.
Josh Rogin and Eli Lake link Foley’s abduction and murder to a ring of foreign-born jihadists suspected in the kidnapping of other journalists in Syria. Several members of that ring were arrested and charged with false imprisonment shortly before Foley was kidnapped in November 2012:
The case fell apart because the two Western journalists who had been abducted in Syria in July 2012 and could identify the suspects did not appear to testify at the trial. One of them had testified against Shajul Islam at pretrial proceedings and said Islam was part of a cell of foreign-born extremists in Syria that included 10 to 15 U.K. citizens. Islam, through his lawyer, denied being involved in the abductions at the time.
One U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast that both U.S. and British counter-terrorism agencies have taken a keen interest in the suspected militants. “There is no official product on this yet for the intelligence community,” this official said. “But people who are out there and collecting on this believe the [Foley] abduction and the [Islam] trial are connected.”
The US had apparently tried to rescue Foley last month:
Details on the nature of the unsuccessful operation remained sparse late Wednesday. When American forces landed in eastern Syria — most likely in Raqqa province, where Foley is thought to have been held and killed — they came under heavy fire. The elite troops killed a number of militants, and one of the pilots involved in the operation sustained a minor injury when his aircraft came under fire, a senior administration official told Foreign Policy.
According to a defense official with knowledge of the situation, the operation occurred in early July. The same official added that the operation was based mostly on human intelligence — as opposed to satellite photographs and intercepted communications — and the military now believes the hostages had been moved from that location just days before the raid took place.
Obama denounced the killing in a press conference yesterday afternoon, calling ISIS a “cancer” but not committing to a particular course of action in response. After weighing the pros and cons of a retaliatory effort, Zack Beauchamp sees the president in a bind:
Obama’s Wednesday statement was two things: an emotional tribute to James Foley’s life, and a furious condemnation of ISIS and its goals. “Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers,” the president said. “[ISIS] has no ideology of any value to human beings. their ideology is bankrupt.”
What the presser wasn’t, however, was a policy address. Saying “the United States will continue to do what we must do to protect our people,” as Obama did, doesn’t say much about the choice between “hit them harder” and “don’t take the bait,” or any other clear US action or lack thereof. The American policy response is still just unclear. Regardless of what the US ends up doing, it should be clear that this isn’t an easy call for Obama. Sadly, it’s much harder to destroy ISIS than it is to condemn the atrocities they commit.
The Guardian weighs in on what Foley’s murder means in terms of the Anglo-American role in the fight against ISIS:
Bluntly put: if we target them, they will target us. The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, was right to say on Wednesday that we – Americans and British in particular – have always been in their sights as one of the “far enemies” they reckon with. But fighter bombers over the Mosul dam, arms for the Kurds and help for the Baghdad government bring us more into the “near enemy” category, and that has consequences. Consequences in the region and, potentially, consequences at home in the United States and Europe.
We should not be alone in a contest with Isis. Regional powers should take on a greater role, perhaps even military, but certainly a more coherent diplomatic role. There should be a suspension of the rivalries which helped create the opportunity Isis seized.