Tuesday 26 September 2017

British extremist 'Jihadi John' identified - FBI

Jihadi John
Jihadi John" has been identified by the FBI.

James Tapsfield

Intelligence services have identified the British extremist shown beheading hostages in three gruesome videos - as the UK prepares to join a military campaign against Islamic State (IS) that could last years.

FBI director James Comey said the identity of the killer - up to now only known by the nickname "Jihadi John" - had been uncovered, but he refused to name the individual publicly.

The news came after the Cabinet unanimously backed UK bombing raids against IS in Iraq, with a large majority of MPs expected to follow suit later.

The motion being debated by the Commons states that troops will not be deployed in "ground combat operations" against IS - also known as Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant).

It also makes clear that another vote will be called if the air campaign is to be extended to Syria. A summary of the Government's legal position released alongside the motion argues that the action is permissible because Iraq has requested military help to protect its "people and territory".

The daughter of one of the murdered hostages, British aid worker David Haines, last night urged politicians to press ahead with strikes to "eradicate" the extremists.

Bethany Haines told ITV News: "They can't be doing this to people and get away with it. No matter what nationality, if they are Western or not. Hundreds of Syrians have been killed by them. They need to be stopped. If air strikes and ground force is what it takes, that's what it takes."

Earlier this week Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic were "getting warm" in the hunt for the jihadi with a London accent, who has so far featured in videos showing the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as Mr Haines.

The man is said to lead a small group of British jihadists who became known by hostages as "The Beatles".

Speaking at a briefing with US journalists, Mr Comey reportedly said: "I believe that we have identified him, I'm not going to tell you who I believe it is."

Asked if he would prioritise capturing the killer, he said: "We will do, and expend the effort that I think the American people would want us to and expect us to."

The Home Office said it did not comment on security operations.

The Cabinet meeting yesterday was briefed by the Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton, and representatives from the security agencies. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said there had been strong support for David Cameron's position, after he warned at the United Nations on Wednesday that fear about repeating the mistakes of the Iraq War must not prevent Britain taking on the "psychopathic" jihadis of IS.

There was said to have been "unanimous" agreement after contributions from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Mr Hammond, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Attorney General Jeremy Wright among others.

If agreed by Parliament, the UK would expect to join US-led international air campaign within days. However, the bombing may not prove that intense as IS is understood to have limited numbers of fixed positions that can be attacked. Mr Fallon has suggested that the campaign against IS could be a "long haul" of "two to three years".

He told The House magazine: "(US secretary of state) John Kerry has estimated two to three years, that looks like a long haul to me. But we have to face up to this. This kind of extremism has been spreading, taking root in democracies."

The Cabinet is said to have noted the "clear and present danger" that IS poses to security in the UK. However, the summary of the legal underpinning does not refer to that threat. Instead it points out that the Iraq government has given "express consent" for the "USA to lead international efforts to strike Isil sites and military strongholds" in the country.

"The Government is satisfied that the consent of Iraq in these terms provides a clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of UK forces and military assets to take military action to strike Isil sites and military strongholds in Iraq," the summary adds.

Mr Cameron has deliberately restricted Britain's involvement to Iraq in part to secure the support of Labour, which has raised concerns about extending air raids into Syria without specific authorisation of the UN Security Council.

The Prime Minister is desperate to avoid a repeat of last year's Commons vote on military action when Labour combined with Tory rebels combined to inflict a damaging defeat on the Government.

Unlike Iraq - where Britain is acting at the request of the government in Baghdad - there has been no such request from the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, raising questions over the the legality of any military intervention. But some Labour and Tory backbenchers have insisted that IS has to be tackled in its Syrian birthplace.

Bob Stewart - a Conservative member of the Commons Defence Committee and former British commander in Bosnia - said: "You have got to go to the eye of the octopus. And the eye of the octopus isn't necessarily in Iraq, it is in Syria."

A YouGov poll for the Sun suggested public opinion backed air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq.

The poll saw 57% of UK residents surveyed say they supported targeting IS in Iraq, up 20% from a similar poll last month, compared to 24% who were against the move, while 51% gave their backing to strikes on IS positions in Syria against 26% who said no.

And some 43% said they would either want to see the US and UK send in ground troops to Iraq, or at least keep the option open, while 32% disagreed.

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