“On the face of it, it appears to have been a British person. We’ll have to do some more analysis to make quite certain that that is the case,” Hammond said. “There are significant numbers of British nationals in Syria, increasingly in Iraq” who pose a “direct threat to our own national security. It just is one more example in a catalog of brutality by this organization,” he added.
Hammond also suggested that the video is genuine — something the United States would later confirm — and that British authorities are trying to identify who the man is. “All the hallmarks point to [the video] being genuine. We’re very concerned by the apparent fact that the murderer in question is British, and we are urgently investigating — agencies on both sides of the Atlantic — are first of all looking to authenticate the video, to make sure that it is genuine, and sadly it appears to be, and then to see if we can identify the individual in question.”
The Guardian also reported that a former hostage of the Islamic State identified Foley’s murderer as the ringleader of two other Brits who are guarding foreign nationals in Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold in Syria. The newspaper reported that the executioner called himself John and was the lead negotiator in talks earlier this year to release 11 hostages of the Sunni militant group.
The executioner was “intelligent, educated and a devout believer in radical Islamic teachings,” the Guardian reported, based on what the former hostage told the publication. Hostages referred to the group as “the Beatles” because of the group members’ nationality, the former hostage said.
The CIA declined to comment on the report. British intelligence services also did not comment.
News that the executioner is British comes a week after pro-Islamic State groups distributed propaganda on London’s streets praising the militants. The flag of the group formerly known as ISIS was also flown over a housing estate in East London.
Barack Obama’s administration did not comment on the executioner but confirmed the video’s authenticity. The U.S. president was visibly angry when he discussed the beheading Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 20, but did not specify what actions the United States would take — if any — in the wake of it.
“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people,” Obama said from Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s vacationing. “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless.”
A few hours later, the Associated Press reported that the Pentagon might deploy up to 300 additional troops to Iraq, though in what capacity was unknown. The United States continued targeting Islamic State fighters with airstrikes Wednesday, despite the terrorists’ threat to kill another American journalist.
Meanwhile, more details emerged about Foley, 40, who worked for GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse, and other outlets.
According to GlobalPost, Foley came to journalism as a second career. He also covered the war in Syria, where he was abducted on Nov. 22, 2012. Foley earned his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee and graduated in 1996, according to the university’s alumni magazine.
In an article published in 2011 recounting his time as a prisoner in Libya, Foley said his faith helped him survive and thanked Marquette’s Catholic community for its prayers.
“It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth,” he said of a prayer vigil held for him while a prisoner. “If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.”
Photo by ARIS MESSINIS