The word out of the British press this week is that U.K. intelligence officials have identified a British citizen who had started his career as a hip-hop artist as the masked man who killed American journalist James Foley in a video released last week.
Almost immediately after the video purporting to show Foley’s beheading was released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria last week, experts noted that the executioner seemed to speak with a British accent. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday it was “increasingly likely” that the killer was a British citizen. An unnamed former ISIS hostage told The Guardian that three of ISIS militants who guarded captured foreigners were British-born and that they were nicknamed “the Beatles.”
In recents days news outlets, mostly in Britain, have cited anonymous sources identifying the killer: Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary. The Sunday Times attributed it to “senior government sources.” Fox News quoted “a senior Western intelligence official.” The Telegraph listed Bary, 24, as one of several suspects, perhaps an indication that the sources leaking to the U.K. press aren’t all in agreement.
Image via YouTube.
The exact evidence linking Bary to the killing isn’t clear, and no authorities have gone on the record identifying Bary as a suspect. Aside from Fox News, no American outlets have independently corroborated the report, even with the help of anonymous sources. The White House declined to comment on the reports when asked Tuesday by TPM.
“For various reasons, at this stage we will not be confirming or otherwise commenting on potential suspects,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told TPM in an email. “We’ll continue using all the tools at our disposal, including working with foreign partners, to bring Jim Foley’s killers to justice.”
Other outlets like the New York Times, NPR, the Associated Press and the Washington Post have picked up on the “speculation” about Bary, but have not yet provided any additional reporting on its veracity.
Bary was already a familiar face to the British press after reportedly posting a picture on Twitter in which he was holding a severed head, as The Independent reported earlier this month prior to Foley’s killing. The Telegraph also said that Bary had “a similar build and skin tone” to the man in the video of Foley’s killing.
But, as the BBC reported last year, British intelligence believes 200 or more British citizens are fighting alongside Islamic militants in Syria. Other estimates have placed the number at twice that. So it’s not clear, beyond the circumstantial evidence, why British press sources have pegged Bary as Foley’s killer.
U.S. journalist James Foley in 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne).
As the New York Times reported Sunday, Bary previously performed under the name “L Jinny” and his singles were played on BBC Radio. His 54-year-old father, Adel Abdel Bary, is facing terrorism charges in the United States dating back to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people. The younger Bary sometimes referenced his father’s case in his music.
According to the New York Times, Bary left London in 2013 to go to Syria and has maintained an active Twitter presence — including the now-famous pose with a severed head.
As the speculation about Bary swirls, however, the official line from the British ambassador to the United States remains only that they are “close” to identifying the person who killed Foley.