UK’s Cameron resists calls for air strikes despite hostage killing

  • British aid-worker Haines murdered by IS in Syria, following beheading of two US journalists
  • British PM vows to hunt down those responsible for Haines murder but resists plans of US-led airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria
  • Australia becomes first country to detail troop numbers and aircraft for US-led coalition fighting IS militants in Iraq, but does not intend to operate in Syria
  • France confirms commitment to use military force in Iraq, unclear whether it would join strikes in Syria

Britain on Sunday resisted pressure to join the United States in announcing air strikes against Islamic State (IS) after the militant group beheaded David Haines, a British hostage.

Chairing a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee in London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government was battling IS on numerous fronts but was not, for now, launching air strikes.

“As this strategy intensifies we are ready to take whatever steps are necessary to deal with this threat and keep our country safe,” he said in a television statement from his office.

“Step by step, we must drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy IS and what it stands for. We will do so in a calm deliberate way, but with an iron determination.”


Britain has in the past often been the first country to join US military action overseas, but war-weary public opinion, parliament’s rejection last year of air strikes on Syria and sensitivities surrounding Scotland’s independence referendum mean Cameron is reticent this time round.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to discuss the British aid worker’s beheading with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at a meeting in Paris on Monday. “I am sure that will be a topic of discussion,” one senior US State Department official said in Paris on condition of anonymity, referring to the murder.

Cameron outlined no plans to recall parliament, which is in recess, in order to seek its authorisation for air strikes against IS and reportedly has no plans to do so.

His last attempt to get the British parliament to back such air strikes, against Syria last year, failed to win the support of lawmakers.

Video footage of Haines murder by IS militants fighting in Iraq and Syria means Cameron, who is also trying to persuade Scotland to reject independence in Thursday’s referendum, is under pressure to get much tougher with IS. With Scotland his domestic priority, he is aware that many Scots have been sceptical of British military action overseas and that proposing air strikes now could risk alienating them before the independence vote.

Cameron has not ruled out any options to degrade IS, with the exception of putting boots on the ground, but is facing increasingly loud calls from some of his own Conservative lawmakers and from former military chiefs to join the US in launching air strikes.


Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has termed Haines’s murder an “unspeakable act of barbarism.”

Asked in a BBC interview if an independent Scotland would be prepared to take military action against IS, he said any response must be under UN auspices, underlining Scottish anxiety about any unilateral military action.

“You can’t have a strategy where you bow to terrorism. There’s an urgent requirement to get back to collective (action) under the UN,” he said.

Salmond has called the 2003 Iraq invasion illegal because it was not launched with UN approval.


US President Obama announced his plans Wednesday to build an alliance to root out IS in both Syria and Iraq, plunging the US into two conflicts in which nearly every country in the Middle East has a stake.

US Secretary of State Kerry is touring the Middle East to try to secure backing for the plan and on Thursday won the backing for a “coordinated military campaign” from 10 Arab countries — Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rich rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

However, a lack of commitment from NATO allies and Turkey’s reluctance to play a frontline role have highlighted the difficulty of building a willing coalition for a complex military campaign.

British PM has vowed to hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes and called IS “the embodiment of evil”, but Britain has so far confined itself to delivering humanitarian aid, carrying out surveillance, arming Kurdish forces who are fighting IS militants and promising training in Iraq.

However, Sir Richard Dannatt, former head of the British army, said on Sunday IS executions should not deter the government from taking military action against the militants.

“If we don’t confront and destroy these IS Jihadi fighters then their influence will grow, their confidence will grow and the problem will get bigger,” he told Sky News.

France has confirmed its commitment to use military force in Iraq, but it was unclear whether France would join strikes in Syria.

After the latest beheading, the French presidency said in statement, “The heinous murder of Haines shows once again how the international community must mobilise against Daesh (the Arabic acronym for IS).”

Germany has decided not to take part in air strikes.

US officials say Kerry is also seeking permission to make more use of bases in the region and fly more warplanes overhead.

The region has been galvanised since June when IS fighters, already in control of much of Syria, swept through northern Iraq, seizing cities, slaughtering prisoners, and proclaiming a “caliphate” that would rule over all Muslims.

The White House says the group is a threat to the West as well, attracting fighters from around the world who could return to carry out attacks at home.


Meanwhile, Australia became the first country to detail troop numbers and aircraft for a US-led coalition fighting IS militants in Iraq but does not intend to operate in Syria.

Australian PM Tony Abbott said Sunday that a 600-strong force comprising some 400 airforce personnel and 200 special forces soldiers would be deployed to a US military base in the UAE.

A task group of military advisers to assist Iraqi and other security forces fighting the militants would form part of the deployment but Abbott said he had not yet made the decision to commit troops to combat action.

“I have to warn the Australian people that should this preparation and deployment extend into combat operations, that this could go on for quite some time,” he said.


Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Office has said that a video released by IS, available on the website of a private terrorism monitoring group SITE, purportedly showing a masked militant beheading Haines showed “all signs” of being genuine.

Islamic State (IS) claimed Saturday that it beheaded British aid worker David Haines, in what would be the third such execution in recent weeks, after two US journalists were shown murdered.

The two-minute-27-second video titled “A message to the allies of America” blames British PM Cameron for joining forces with the US, which has said it is at “war” with the militants and launched air strikes against them in Iraq.

“You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the US against the IS, just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst British PMs who can’t find the courage to say no to Americans,” the executioner says in the video.

The militant told Britain the alliance will “accelerate your destruction” and will drag the British people into “another bloody and unwinnable war.”

The images were consistent with those of the filmed executions of two US journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, in the past month.

Haines’s executioner appears to be the same man who featured in videos with Foley and Sotloff. The man, nicknamed “Jihadi John” by Western media, seems to have a British accent. At the end of the same video, another hostage is shown and threatened.

Security services in Britain have been trying to identify the executioner. A British security source speaking on condition of anonymity said an investigation was underway into the killings and that senior intelligence officials had attended the meeting of the emergency committee that Cameron chaired.

The source declined to go into detail about what, if any, progress the investigation had made.

Scottish-born Haines, 44, was taken hostage in Syria in March 2013 and was threatened in a video released this month showing the beheading of US journalist Sotloff.

Haines had been working for the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), an international relief charity, and was previously involved in humanitarian work in the Balkans, parts of Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The video appeared a day after the aid worker’s family appealed to his captors to contact them.

Reacting to the video, the British premier said that “this is a despicable and appalling murder of an innocent aid worker,” and an “act of pure evil.”

Cameron tweeted that his “heart goes out to his family who have shown extraordinary courage and fortitude.”

Hailing Haines as a “British hero”, Cameron called the murder of the 44 year-old Scottish aid worker callous and brutal.

Haines was remembered in prayers at the morning service in Edinburgh’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, where provost Graham Forbes praised him for his dedication to humanitarian work.

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