Britain is close to identifying the man who beheaded American journalist James Foley in a video released by Islamic State militants last week, the British ambassador to the United States said, as UK media identified a former rap artist as a prime suspect.
The masked knifeman shown in the video spoke English with a London accent, and security services have launched a major attempt to find out who he is by analysing the video and seeking to identify him from among the estimated 500 Britons believed to have gone to join the jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
Britain's ambassador to the United States, Peter Westmacott, told CNN's State of the Union programme on Sunday that Britain was using a great deal of resources to identify the suspect, including voice-recognition technology.
He said he could not give more details, but added: "I do know from my colleagues at home that we are close."
Former hostages of Islamic State have suggested that the man in the video is one of a group of British Islamists assigned to guard foreign prisoners. They have been dubbed John, Paul and Ringo, of the Beatles, because of their British accents, and British media say the suspect is "jihadi John".
British newspapers reported on Sunday that investigators were looking at several British jihadi thought to be in the Raqqa area of Syria.
One is Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a former rapper from London. He is the son of Abdel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian alleged al-Qaeda operative who was extradited from Britain to the US in 2012 to face terrorism charges in connection with the twin 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, who rapped by the name L Jinny, recently posted a picture of himself on Twitter holding up a severed head, The Independent reported. "Chillin' with my homie, or what's left of him," it quoted the accompanying caption as saying.
Writing in The Sunday Times, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the threat from militants in Syria and Iraq could last a generation. He said Britain was devoting "significant resources to tackle this problem for the long term".
Reuters, Associated Press