British Suspect In James Foley Execution "Close" To Being Identified
Cries of justice for executed photojournalist James Foley may soon be met with results. On Sunday's episode of State of the Union with Candy Crowley on CNN, Britain's ambassador to the US, Sir Peter Westmacott, revealed that British intelligence is "close" to identifying the man who executed American photojournalist James Foley.
This news comes just a few days after ISIS released a horrifying video of Foley's death, during which the executioner spoke in what is being described as a "distinctly English accent."
According to Westmacott, American and British intelligence agents have been cooperating in order to identify the killer. Though few clues are available, there are a few key distinguishable characteristics that have served intelligence services well thus far in their search.
For example, though the executioner appeared as a hooded figure dressed head to toe in black, his hands are visible, and give away his skin tone. Moreover, he appears to be left-handed, and experts say that the video's context clues also provide a reasonable estimate for the man's height and weight.
But thus far, physical characteristics have not been nearly as helpful as his voice, which has been instrumental in his identification.
A preliminary analysis by linguists suggested that he seems to be under 30 years of age, and likely hails from southern England or perhaps even London. And given the UK's extensive audio bank, a database of recordings of suspected terrorists' voices, it is likely that samples from the video could be run against the existing information.
Unfortunately, this methodology is not an exact science, and because "voice prints" do not exist in the same way that fingerprints do, experts will have to be very careful and thorough in their investigation.
CNN has spoken to a number of expert linguists who have reached varying conclusions about the origin of the killer's accent. John Olsson, a voice recognition expert, noted some "elements in the accent which are not purely British." Olsson suggested that the killer had "some African origin or perhaps second-generation African parentage," or that he'd been influenced by the dialectical tendencies of those around him.
On the other hand, Paul Kerswill, a linguistics expert at the University of York, called the killer's language as "multicultural London English." Kerswill speculates that he grew up "in a multicultural, multilingual neighborhood with lots of different languages around," which led to "some kind of change in the way English is pronounced."
The different opinions presented by just two of these linguists demonstrates how tricky of a task British and American intelligence agents have before them, but it is a task that has received enormous attention and resources since Foley's death.
We’re putting out a great deal of resource into identifying this person, and there are some very sophisticated technologies, voice identification and so on, which people can use to check who these people are.
While British intelligence has kept a tight lid on their suspects, a few possibilities have emerged, including a British rapper who posted a disturbing photo of himself holding a severed head earlier this year, captioned "Chillin’ with my homie or what’s left of him."
The suspect's Twitter profile has since been removed.
As of yet, however, there is no confirmation of the suspect as Foley's killer. But there is concern that the executioner was involved in another videotaped killing, this time of a soldier loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. In the video, posted to Instagram at the beginning of May, a man wearing a similar black robe is shown shooting the soldier.
Like Foley's executioner, this man is also left-handed, and experts say that he appears to be of similar height and weight. Moreover, the videos appear to be filmed in very similar locations, and both the killers have clear British accents. This information, in particular, is said to be key in identifying a suspect.
British intelligence has emphasized their commitment to finding Foley's killer, with Westmacott noting that several hundred Britons are now part of ISIS. "It’s not just about one brutal murderer," the ambassador said on Meet The Press, "It is a threat to our citizens."
The British Islamist militants have been nicknamed "The Beatles" by their Syrian hostages, and Foley's killer has been dubbed "Jihadi John." The three men are reputed to be particularly cruel — an escaped Syrian hostage told NBC News, "Whenever the Beatles showed up, there was some kind of physical beating or torture."
Finding and identifying Jihadi John is of paramount importance, particularly for the safety of fellow American journalist Steven Sotloff. In Foley's execution video, his killer makes an ominous threat involving Sotloff's fate, claiming that President Barack Obama's next moves in Iraq will determine whether another US citizen is killed.
However, with British intelligence fast approaching an answer and the US Department of Justice using "all of the tools at [their] disposal," there are high hopes that Foley's killers will soon be brought to justice, and that others may be saved.