BRITAIN’S intelligence services are close to identifying a masked militant filmed beheading American journalist James Foley.
The UK’s ambassador to the United States, Peter Westmacott, said investigators were using sophisticated voice-recognition software to establish the identity of the man dubbed “Jihadi John” by his fellow fighters, who was seen speaking with an English accent in the execution video of the reporter.
The ambassador’s comments came amid growing calls for British jihadists who travel to fight overseas to be prevented from returning home.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Mr Foley’s killer had “utterly betrayed” British values, while former shadow home secretary David Davis said those taking up arms for Islamic State (IS) should forfeit their British citizenship.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, also called for Britons fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria to lose their passports.
Mr Westmacott said: “We are very close to identifying who this guy is. I can’t say more than this but I know from my colleagues at home that we are close. We’re putting a lot into it and there are sophisticated technologies, voice identification and so on which people can use to check who these people are,”
Downing Street said the government was “stepping up” efforts to defeat IS terrorists and announced that Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall has been appointed as security envoy to the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Body armour, night vision goggles and other non-lethal equipment will be supplied to Kurdish forces over the next few days, a spokesman said.
“As the Government’s security envoy to Iraq’s Kurdistan region, General Mayall will support Kurdish and wider Iraqi efforts to counter ISIL and work with Iraq’s leaders as they establish a unity government,” he added.
“General Mayall’s extensive experience of the region means he will be able to draw on a broad range of existing relationships across Iraq, the region and with close allies.”
The government is facing demands to take tougher action against British men heading out to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS. Former shadow home secretary David Davis dismissed suggestions that possible new laws, dubbed asbos for terrorists, would prevent Britons fighting for IS and said they must instead be stopped from returning to the UK. Mr Davis said the government’s response to the crisis in Iraq had been “tentative, uncertain, almost limp” and suggested the men heading overseas to fight were committing treason.
Mr Davis said: “Asbos for terrorists? It is hard to imagine the IS killers quaking in their boots.”
He added: “Since these young men are in effect swearing allegiance to a hostile state, they should all forfeit their British citizenship – not just those who are dual nationals.
“Since this is an incredibly serious penalty, it should be done only after a proper public trial carrying all the public seriousness and opprobrium of a murder trial, because in many cases that is what it would be.
“IS is claiming to be a state. They can issue these young men with Islamic State passports if they so wish. It is not our problem that they would have trouble getting into any civilised country with them.”
Meanwhile, Lord Carey said: “They should not have access to the privilege of travelling under a British passport… and they certainly should not be able to travel back with the barbaric and bloodthirsty skills they have gained.”
Mr Hammond, the foreign secretary, said that unless IS could be stopped, then “sooner or later they will strike us on British soil”.
The Home Office insisted it would take the “strongest possible action” against people found travelling to fight in Iraq and Syria. A spokesman said: “The police, security services and Border Force are actively working to disrupt terrorist threats, including from British fighters attempting to return to the UK.”