Friday 19 December 2014

SAS may try to free hostage as UK ponders Iraq action

Matthew Holehouse and Peter Dominicak

Published 04/09/2014 | 02:30

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron
Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

The SAS could try to rescue a British hostage being held by Islamic terrorists, the UK's Foreign Secretary said yesterday .

The British government would "look at every option" to save the man, who the Isil terrorists threatened to behead, Philip Hammond said.

Britain was prepared to conduct air strikes if they were "beneficial", he said.

Mr Hammond was speaking after a meeting of Cobra, the British government's emergency planning committee.

He confirmed that a video showing Steven Sotloff, an American journalist, being beheaded "is genuine".

The killer with a London accent - nicknamed "Jihadi John" - also appeared in the video of the murder of James Foley, another US journalist, according to an early analysis.

Just as Mr Sotloff appeared at the end of the video of Mr Foley last month, the British hostage is shown on his knees at the end of the latest video, wearing a Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit.

Mr Hammond confirmed that an operation by US special forces to rescue the hostages had failed.

They used helicopters to descend on an Iraqi town, but the two prisoners could not be located.

Asked if Britain would "extricate" the British hostage, Mr Hammond referred to the failed attempt to rescue him.

"You are aware, of course, of the rescue attempt that took place some time ago, unfortunately unsuccessfully," he said. "You wouldn't expect me to discuss the various options we will be considering, but I can assure you we will look at every possible option to protect this person."

Read more: Beheader jihadist 'dead man walking' as Britain considers ISIS airstrikes

Threat

The murder did not change the "strategic planning" of the air strikes, but Mr Hammond said they would be considered if they were deemed "beneficial."

"We will look very carefully at the options available to us to support the legitimate government of Iraq and Kurdistan in defending themselves against the threat from Isil," he said.

"If we judge that air strikes could be beneficial we will certainly consider them.

"We have to deal with [Isil] on the basis of the wider threat they pose to the British public as well as to this individual."

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron has received indications of cross-party support for air strikes against Isil jihadis, as sources indicated yesterday that Britain could be prepared to send troops to Iraq for a training mission. The Prime Minister yesterday pledged that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) would be "squeezed out of existence" as he travelled to a NATO summit in Wales to hold talks with world leaders over the response to the crisis.

He said he would do whatever was in "the national interest" and again refused to rule out military action in Iraq amid growing calls from senior figures from all three main political parties to join American air strikes in the region.

Government sources also suggested that British soldiers could return to Iraq to help train troops fighting Isil, as part of a NATO "capacity building" force.

They would be the first British "boots on the ground" in the country since the army was withdrawn from Iraq in 2011.

Read more: We will destroy you, Obama vows to 'barbaric' rebels of Islamic State

Pressure

President Barack Obama is also coming under domestic pressure to step up his country's military involvement in Iraq and Syria in the wake of the murder by Isil extremists of Sotloff.

Asked last night if Britain would join air strikes, the Prime Minister said: "Well, what I've said is we must do what is in our national interest."

He added: "We've helped already with aid. We've helped with other military assets, and we'll always ask ourselves what is in our national interest - not ruling things out, but going forward in a deliberate, sensible, resolute way." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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