* Cameron interrupts holiday to return to London
* British police investigate video of killing
* UK has warned of Britons fighting in Syria
(Adds reaction throughout, security analyst)
By William James and Kate Holton
LONDON, Aug 20 British authorities launched a
hunt on Wednesday for a man with an English accent who appeared
in an Islamic State (IS) video purporting to show what Prime
Minister David Cameron called the "barbaric and brutal"
beheading of an American journalist.
A masked IS jihadist, dressed in black, who stood next to a
kneeling James Foley in the video released online spoke with
what sounded like a London accent.
The case had echoes of the brutal 2013 murder of British
soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in a London street in
broad daylight by two British Muslim converts, and of beheadings
staged in the early years of the U.S. and British occupation of
Iraq a decade ago.
It also renewed the focus on the number of young Britons
willing to fight in Syria and Iraq.
"If confirmed, this brutal murder shows the broader danger
of British citizens going out to Syria, where they can be drawn
into extremist groups and get involved in what can only be
described as barbaric acts," said a British security source, who
spoke on condition of anonymity.
Cameron, who interrupted his holiday to return to London,
said he was shocked that it appeared a British citizen had been
behind the killing.
"Let me condemn completely the barbaric and brutal act that
has taken place," he told broadcasters. "It is an act of
Britain, which has about 2.7 million Muslims in its 63
million population, has warned of the dangers from its nationals
travelling to foreign militant training camps after four young
British Islamists killed 52 people in suicide bomb attacks on
London in July 2005.
Two of the four had been to al Qaeda camps in Pakistan.
In February this year, Islamist fighters released a video of
what they said was a British man carrying out a suicide bombing
on a prison in Aleppo, and several young British nationals have
reportedly been killed overseas in fighting this year.
NARROW DOWN THE SEARCH
Security experts told Reuters that officials would be able
to narrow down their search for the man through the few facts
they already have, including his voice, height and eyes.
They will also search through travel records, social media
entries and intelligence contacts within British communities to
"If you think back to 10 years ago, we were going through
similar situations when there were previous victims, and it also
isn't new to see British nationals there," said a former senior
"We will build on the work done in the last 10 to 15 years,"
Bob Ayers, a former U.S. intelligence officer now living in
Britain, said officers would conduct an acoustic and visual
analysis of the tape to try and find more information about the
location of the beheading, and to search for a voice match with
other recordings. And though the militant's face was masked, his
eyes were visible, which he said could permit an analysis of the
eyes to rule out other people and so narrow down the
possibilities for identification.
Nigel Inkster, a director at the International Institute for
Strategic Studies, with 31 years of experience working at
Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service, said the hunt could
He told Reuters the world was not like the TV dramas of "24"
or "Spooks" where "one piece of information inexorably leads to
the next". He also noted that IS was proving a huge draw to
young Islamists intent on fighting.
Governments estimate that several thousand Europeans have
gone to Syria since the war against President Bashar al-Assad
started over three years ago. Britain estimates that some 500 of
its nationals have travelled to fight, with around half coming
from the capital.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said British intelligence
services would work closely with the United States to try to
identify the man in the video and that a specialist
counter-terrorism police unit had launched an investigation.
Security experts said a Briton may have been chosen to
appear on the video because an English speaker would be
accessible for showing on U.S television networks, and might
increase the appeal to other Islamists considering travelling to
It also acts as a reminder of the threat posed by such
militants if they return home.
"Those who do become terrorists, when they return home
become better terrorists because of the experience they have and
the networks they develop," said Peter Neumann, director of the
International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's
Cameron has been insistent that Britain will not send any
troops to fight in Iraq despite the escalating crisis, wary of
alienating voters just eight months before a general election.
He is still smarting after his plan to join a potential
military strike on Syria last year failed to get parliamentary
backing and is well aware of the public opposition to Britain's
role in joining the United States in 2003 to invade Iraq and
topple Saddam Hussein.
Britain has instead sent "UK military assets" to the region
to help with humanitarian efforts.
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Costas Pitas and
Kylie MacLellan; Writing by Kate Holton and Belinda Goldsmith;
Editing by Stephen Addison and Will Waterman)