Hunt for James Foley’s killer

Killers of US journalist James Foley must be brought to justice. But how much could finding exactly who killed Mr. Foley impact a broader effort to root out the Islamic State? Read few comments.

David Lowe, Principal Lecturer, Law School, Liverpool John Moores University

What we have witnessed with the execution of James Foley is how violent and ruthless the Islamic State (IS) group is. With James being an American freelance journalist it has brought home to those of us in Europe and North America the horrors of the actions of this group who have ruthlessly killed Shia Muslims, Iraqi Christians in the area of Qoroquash and the Iraqi Yazidi’s in the IS controlled areas of Iraq. What may have made James Foley’s to us in the West even more chilling is the fact it was committed by a UK citizen who is a member of the IS group Finding this member of IS will be difficult at the moment but efforts will be made to trace him. What this actions tells me is that the Air support the US is providing t the Kurdish forces in the north east of Iraq and now, the Iraqi government is that IS is now on the back foot and it is hurting them. James Foley’s killing has revealed to European and North American states and its citizens is the horrors that are going on in the IS controlled areas of Iraq and Syria where we have seen members of IS mercilessly killing Iraqis, causing mass displacement of Iraqi citizens with some struggling to survive in the mountain regions of the north Iraq. IS’s actions amount to nothing more than acts of terrorism and they are doing no more than destabilising the area. As a result it will need a broader effort by European and North American governments to support both the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi Kurdish forces and defeat IS. One danger to the West is when their citizens who joined IS return as through their experience and knowledge they will have the potential to commit acts of terrorism in their home state.

J. M. BergerInvestigative Journalist, Specialist on Homegrown Extremism, Author of Jihad Joe

I don’t think identifying the killer will have much impact on the broader effort against IS. He’s just one of a great many Western foreign fighters, and while this highlights that problem, it’s not like we didn’t know about it. While everyone wants to do everything they can for the hostages, the outcome of the war is not likely to hinge on this one issue.

William McCants, Director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, Brookings Institution

I don’t think it will matter who exactly killed Foley. It was a decision taken at the top of the organization so the US and its allies will have to determine whether to change its leaders’ calculus or destroy it.

Gilbert Ramsay, Lecturer in International Relations, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews

In a sense, the murder of James Foley, as horrible as it is, is not really all that new. When another American journalist, Daniel Pearl, was executed, one of the people responsible was, once again, a British jihadist, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.

Indeed, the sense of deja vu is perhaps the most troubling thing about this. Up to now, the basic security calculation on the part of Western countries, at any rate, in relation to the rise of the Islamic State Organisation (as it now calls itself), has been, to put it very simplistically, whether we are dealing with something analogous to the rise of the Taliban, or something analogous to the rise of Al Qaeda. If the ISO was, in effect, more like the Taliban – which it resembled more closely from the point of view of its immediate strategy and goals, then there was a case for saying that, as unpleasant as it might be, it was safer to adopt a policy of containment rather than risk provoking it into an alternative strategy of global jihad. On the other hand of course, as an organisation descended from Al Qaeda, and one vastly more politically sophisticated and aware than the Taliban (certainly the Taliban as it was in the 1990s), and given the very large number of foreign fighters in its ranks, it has always been known that globalising the conflict would certainly have been an option for ISO, both ideologically and in terms of capability.

The beheading of James Foley is significant precisely in so far as it plays to exactly this fear. It is a clear statement that ISO is prepared to ‘go global’ as Al Qaeda decided to do in 1998, should the United States and other Western countries intervene to frustrate its territorial ambitions.

So, to return to your original question, finding out who killed Mr Foley is probably not, in and of itself, all that important to the strategic actions that will be necessary to defeat ISO. However, it could be importantly indicative, in so far as the ability of the British and American intelligence services to correctly identify the person responsible might give us some indication of just how good a grasp they have of the movements of their nationals who have joined the group, which in turn may say something about how well prepared they are to defend against a concerted campaign of global terrorism by ISO, should it try to launch one. Of course, putting a face to the killer will also give something for the British media to focus on and use as a justification for a stiffer British response. But I suspect that this is not all that important for two reasons. First, the issue of British nationals joining ISO is already important in the UK media, and specific individuals have already been identified in that context. Second, identifying the immediate perpetrator in the video (assuming that he is British) could be used to call for a variety of possible policy responses, ranging from more use of force abroad to more stringent precautions at home.

Edwin BakkerProfessor, Director Centre for Terrorism & Counter Terrorism, Leiden University

There is a lot of media attention for the hunt for the perpetrator of Foley. Possibly it is because he is a journalist and of course many people (also non journalist) want this person to be punished for his barbaric deed. (but let us not forget about the many murderers of thousands of other victims of IS). It will not have much impact on IS and the effort is probably primarily aimed at the general (western) public in order to show that governments will not allow this to remain unpunished and perhaps also send a signal to western fighters that they will not escape justice. I doubt if it will stop people from joining IS or killing people in Syria and Iraq. The killing of Foley will impact IS in another way. It will increase the pressure on western governments to do more to stop IS. It will put more pressure on Cameron and Obama. The current airstrikes against IS are very limited and can hardly be considered a serious effort to stop and roll back IS. Having said that, the killing of Foley does not seem a smart move by IS. On the other hand, the had to show to their audiences that it will not let the US strikes remain unpunished.


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