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British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

  • Henry Ridgwell

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke on camera in English with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists.

With a soundtrack citing verses of the Koran, a video uploaded on social media in June, purportedly by Islamic State militants, incites Muslims from across the world to come to Syria to fight.

One of the militants -- who identifies himself as a British citizen named Abu Dujana Al Hindi -- speaks to the camera in English.

“This is a message to the brothers who have stayed behind," he said. "You need to ask yourselves what prevents you from coming to the land of Izza? [honor], What prevents you from joining the ranks of the Mujahedeen?”

FILE - This undated file still image from video released April 7, 2011, by GlobalPost, shows James Foley of Rochester, N.H., a freelance contributor for GlobalPost, in Benghazi, Libya.

FILE - This undated file still image from video released April 7, 2011, by GlobalPost, shows James Foley of Rochester, N.H., a freelance contributor for GlobalPost, in Benghazi, Libya.

The gruesome beheading of American journalist James Foley was carried out by a man with a British accent. Foreign fighters are a valuable asset for the Islamic State, said terror expert Hannah Stuart of The Henry Jackson Society, a British-based policy group.

“They might not be the best fighters, but they are the best people in an information war. You can put them on camera and recruit widely from among Muslims in Western Europe," said Stuart.

That James Foley’s killer had a British accent was no accident, said American filmmaker Bilal Abdul Karim, who has documented the rise in foreigners fighting in Syria.

"When Brits or Europeans or Westerners appear in the group they are very keen to put them on camera so that they can push their narrative. The reason why a British voice is used for this is because they knew the impact a British voice would make," said Karim, in reference to the fact that hearing a British voice may be a lure for potential recruits.

After starting out as a militant group fighting local conflicts, the Islamic State is now seeking international recognition, said Afzal Ashraf of the Royal United Services Institute.

“What they want is to spread their ideology. They want recognition. They want support. And they will want to get that recognition and support from across the world but particularly from Western countries," said Ashraf.

Another online video from February purports to show a British fighter in Aleppo carrying out a suicide bomb attack on a prison.

Extremist ideologies

Britain has been slow to counter extremist ideologies, according to Harris Rafiq of the counter-extremism group the Quilliam Foundation.

"London historically over the last few decades has had Islamist ideology from groups like the Muslim Brotherhood being taught openly without being challenged," said Rafiq.

Authorities in Britain and the United States are trying to identify James Foley’s killer. The Islamic State’s use of online technology provides opportunities for security services says Professor Peter Neumann, of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

"They will speak to other foreign fighters on Twitter, on Facebook, on Whatsapp, on Skype and of course the intelligence services are monitoring these conversations," noted Neumann.

British authorities have appealied to Muslim communities to help identify James Foley’s killer, but acknowledge that bringing him to justice will be extremely difficult.

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