As western leaders express shock and outrage at the beheading of US journalist James Foley, British Islamic State fighters use social media to express their support, describing his killer as a “lion”.
As the security services try to identify the man who murdered the American journalist James Foley, they will be monitoring the social media accounts of British jihadis known to be fighting in Syria.
From Twitter to Tumblr, many of the young men who have joined the Islamic State have been documenting their paths to jihad and encouraging other Brits to follow them.
They boast about their exploits, show off their weapons and try to provide a religious justification for their actions. This has allowed those who monitor them to build an extensive database on their activities and possible identities.
As the news of James Foley’s death spread, some British fighters reacted with glee. A number replaced their Twitter avatars (the picture that account holders use on the profiles) with pictures of the beheading.
Junaid Hussain, a British hacker from Birmingham aged 19, tweeted: “And know that the one who kills for the sake of His Lord will never go to the same place as the one he killed.”
Channel 4 News reported in June that Hussain left the country when he was on bail for other offences, and that his online activities should have been monitored. He had served a jail sentence for hacking the personal details of Tony Blair. (See that report about him below)
Some of the postings give clues about the identity of the killer.
One Twitter user suggested that the man, who spoke with a London accent and identifies himself as “John”, is of Pakistani origin. There have been reports that he was part of a group of British jihadis used to guard western hostages in the city of Raqqa. It’s known that groups of Britons have travelled together to fight and officers from the country’s regional counter-terror units will be trawling their databases.
British militants have been described as the most bloodthirsty of those in the conflict. Some have been praising the actions of the killer, and its feared that that the murder will be used as a recruiting tool for other young British Muslims.
Nasser Muthana is the 20 year old from Cardiff who was seen in the Islamic State recruitment video earlier this year.
In account believed to be his, he tweeted that John is a “lion” and tried to give a religious justification for the killing. Muthana’s younger brother Aseel and their friend Reyaad Khan were also seen in the recruitment video.
There are thought to be up to 500 British men fighting in Syria, although the Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood told Channel 4 News that he believes the numbers could be as high as 2,000.
Around 250 are thought to have returned, and the police believe some of these will pose a threat. Many will have been brutalised and will have committed horrific atrocities, as the death of James Foley sadly demonstrates.
There are also a small number of British women who have travelled to the conflict. Although they are not permitted to fight, they say they can participate in jihad by marrying fighters, looking after them and cooking for them. Some of the young women I have been in contact with have also been reacting to the death.
One teenager, who is believed to be from Manchester, wrote: “So the US want to bombarded us with airstrikes in iraq and not give a damn whos killed but want cry when a dusty journalist is killed.”
The security services believe that they will identity the killer. But locating him in a conflict zone and bringing him to justice will prove more difficult.