UK will examine ‘every possible option’ to free British hostage held by Isis
Foreign secretary also confirms that unsuccessful attempt was made to rescue British hostage and others.
The UK government will examine “every possible option” to protect a British hostage threatened with death by Islamic State extremists, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has said.
He also confirmed that an unsuccessful attempt was made to rescue the British hostage and others held by Isis.
David Cameron is preparing to set out the British government’s response to the threat to the life of a British man at prime minister’s questions after an emergency meeting of Cobra on Wednesday morning.
Government sources said Cameron had known of the threat to the man’s life for many months so it would not change his short-term calculations, but the revelation of the threat to the public in the gruesome Isis video is likely to put more pressure on the UK to join the air strikes that the Americans have been conducting for weeks against the militants in northern Iraq.
Hammond emerged from Wednesday’s Cobra meeting to tell reporters that British analysis confirmed the Isis video showing the killing of American journalist Steven Sotloff was genuine and featured the same militant with an apparently British voice. He said every possible option was being looked at to protect the British hostage.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Sotloff. We are doing everything we can to reassure the family of the British hostage who was shown in the video,” he said.
“We have been aware of this hostage for some time. But we have to deal with Isis on the basis of the wider threat that they pose to the British public as well as this individual.
“You wouldn’t expect me to discuss the various options that we will be considering but I can assure you that we will look at every possible option to protect this person,” he said.
It is thought the reference to the rescue bid referred to an unsuccessful operation by American commandos in July, when they raided an oil refinery near the Syrian city of Raqqa, but did not find the hostages they had believed were being held there.
Hammond refused to rule out air strikes: “It doesn’t make any difference at all to our strategic planning. If we judge that air strikes could be beneficial … then we will certainly consider them. But we have made no decision to do so at the moment.”
Theresa May, the home secretary, said the murder of Sotloff was a “barbaric act by a group of murderous psychopaths”.
President Barack Obama denounced Sotloff’s murder as “a horrific act of violence” and insisted that the US would not be “intimidated” by militants’ threats.
Speaking during a visit to Estonia, Obama said: “Whatever these murderers think they will achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. They have failed because, like people round the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.”
Cameron has already told MPs he regards Isis as a threat to the British way of life, and has not ruled out RAF involvement in air strikes.
Cameron is certain to confer with Obama at the Nato summit in Wales on Thursday, both about the threat to further hostages and the wider strategy to combat Isis.
Obama is under intense domestic pressure to be more decisive and is considering whether to extend the air strikes to Syria, the original base of Isis.
Cameron, at the G8 and G20, has led the calls on governments not to pay ransoms to hostages, and he is unlikely to change that policy in this case.
The video released by Isis on Tuesday ended with a chilling warning that a British hostage would be the next to die.
In the video, entitled A Second Message to America, a masked man is shown carrying out the decapitation of Sotloff, whose life had earlier been threatened in a film that showed the murder of another American journalist, James Foley.
The video features a voiceover delivered by a British jihadi with a London accent, apparently the same man who was filmed beheading Foley two weeks ago.
Jabbing a serrated knife towards the camera, the masked man is shown declaring: “I’m back, Obama.”
Cameron condemned the killing as a “despicable act”.
In the video, seen by the Guardian, Sotloff appears on his knees, his hands tied behind his back.
The masked fighter indicated he was the same man who murdered Foley, saying: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State.”
The video was recorded in desolate desert landscape that resembled the location in which Foley was murdered, although the latest video showed a flatter terrain. It is unclear when it was made, but it appears to be recent: the masked killer makes reference to recent US bombings in Iraq, including the air strikes near Amerli that began on Saturday. Sotloff’s hair and beard are also longer than in the Foley video, in which Sotloff also appeared.
In the latest video, Sotloff is dressed in an orange jumpsuit, apparently mimicking those used at Guantánamo Bay, and is made to deliver a statement blaming Obama for his murder. The killer states: “You, Obama, have yet again, through your actions, killed yet another American citizen.” He then appears to slit Sotloff’s throat.
The black-masked killer again urges Obama to cease his bombing campaign in Iraq, and says that if the US does not cease bombing, “our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people”.
The warning is extended to governments that might join the “evil” actions of the US against Isis. It is around this point that the video cuts to another kneeling captive, stated to be a British national.
British intelligence officials have been working urgently to try to identify Foley’s killer, reportedly using sophisticated voice recognition techniques to help narrow down a list of potential British jihadi suspects.
UK government sources said that an early analysis of the video suggested that the British man whose voice issued this threat was the same man heard on the video that depicted the murder of Foley.