James Comey, Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said that his agency had discovered the identity of the masked, British-accented man who beheaded two American journalists, marking a step forward in the massive manhunt that began after gruesome videos of the executions were posted online.
Several media outlets including Agence-France Press reported on Thursday afternoon that Mr. Comey said that the U.S. “believes it has identified the masked Islamic State militant who murdered two kidnapped American journalists in separate videotaped beheadings.”
IS was the focus of worldwide condemnation after it published on social media the graphic beheadings of U.S. scribes James Foley and then Steven Sotloff, both freelance journalists who were kidnapped in Syria.
The distinctive accent of the killer, believed to be from the London area, underscored the growing problem of foreign fighters taking up arms for the jihadist militants who now control large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq despite ongoing bombings by U.S. and French forces.
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.
The tall, masked man swathed in black who apparently killed the hostages had come to be known as ‘Jihadi John,’ and was rumoured to be the leader of three guards assigned to holding foreign hostages in Raqqa, the Syrian stronghold of IS.
The lead suspect in Mr. Foley’s murder was said to be British rapper Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, who apparently travelled to Syria last year to fight in its civil war and recently tweeted a picture of himself holding up a severed head.
Earlier this month U.S. officials had 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.
‘Using all means’
They confirmed that intelligence agencies had been using “all means,” to identify the man, including analysis of voice and metadata from the video, as well as other unspecified tradecraft.
Last month U.K. diplomat Peter Westmacott indicated that London was “close to identifying” the militant, noting that their government was “putting a great deal into the search.”