The tall, masked man swathed in black and sporting a British accent, who was the apparent killer of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in gruesome videos released on the Internet in recent weeks, may have been identified, U.S. officials were quoted saying on Monday evening.
The man who has come to be known as ‘Jihad John,’ and rumoured to be the leader of three guards assigned to holding foreign hostages in Raqqa, the Syrian stronghold of militant group Islamic State, has been the subject of an international manhunt since the videos of the beheadings surfaced amidst worldwide condemnation.
Speaking of the search for the identity of the individual, U.S. officials said to CNN news channel , “They have a pretty good idea of who it may be… [but] it’s not 100 per cent yet.” The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, were reportedly not willing to identify the suspect given the ongoing investigation.
Yet they confirmed that intelligence agencies had been using “all means,” to identify the man, who in the August 19 video of Mr. Foley’s killing warned U.S. President Barack Obama that continuation of American airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq would lead to further bloodshed against hostages.
Officials said that techniques used to identify the militant included the analysis of voice and metadata from the video, as well as other unspecified tradecraft and U.S. and British authorities were working together on this particular mission.
“This person is in an environment that's highly dangerous. He could meet his demise on the battlefield,” the officials added, noting that the man was believed to be linked to a group of extremists based in London.
While the officials did not rule out bringing the suspect back to face trial in a Western court, according to reports, they cautioned that it was still “too premature,” to know with any certainty that the same person had beheaded both Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff.
Last month UK diplomat Peter Westmacott indicated that London was “close to identifying” the militant, noting that their government was “putting a great deal into the search.”
Western and other governments have sharpened the focus on the issue of foreign fighters joining IS to take up arms across the vast territory spanning Syria and Iraq that they now control.
Although the conflict thus far appears to be contained to the region fears appear to be mounting that radicalised Western nationals could return to their homelands and carry out a terror attack on foreign soil.