Features

The brutal truth? Britain lacks the reach to bring any ISIS killer to justice

Politicians’ promises to bring those who murder British hostages to justice almost never come true

20 September 2014

9:00 AM

20 September 2014

9:00 AM

The words are strong, the sentiment behind them no doubt heartfelt. ‘We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice, however long it takes,’ said David Cameron, speaking as Britain recoiled in horror at yet another jihadist beheading video, this time of a British man, David Haines. Sadly, Cameron’s promises are empty. Ask a Whitehall official how many suspected murderers of British hostages have been brought to justice and there is a long silence. ‘Let me get back to you on that,’ said one this week. There is a depressing pattern. In 2004, Ken Bigley, from Liverpool, was beheaded in Iraq by the group led by a Jordanian militant called Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Tony Blair expressed his outrage and vowed to bring those responsible to justice. Two years later, we still hadn’t got him. Al-Zarqawi was then killed by a bomb dropped on his hideout — but by the US airforce after being tracked down to his lair, not by British detectives but by Jordanian intelligence agents. There were sound tactical reasons why no one could go and arrest Al-Zarqawi, but his death was closer to retribution than justice. In January 2009, a Briton, Edwin Dyer, was among several western tourists abducted near Timbuktu in Mali; they had come to watch the Tuareg Sahara festival. Whoever grabbed them at gunpoint, they ended up in the hands of al-Qa’eda’s local franchise, AQIM, short for al-Qa’eda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb. AQIM were after money, guns and leverage to get their friends out of jail. So they issued their demands and the Swiss, the German and the Canadian hostages got released, reportedly for ransoms and prisoner swaps. But Britain has a long-established policy of ‘not making substantive concessions to kidnappers’, on the sensible grounds that this enriches the abductors and encourages them to take more hostages. In June 2009, AQIM murdered Mr Dyer and posted a video online. Gordon Brown called the killing ‘barbaric’ and told the Commons that those responsible would be ‘hunted down and brought to justice’. They never have been. Last year, at a gas plant in Algeria, a multi-national group of jihadists from the ridiculously named ‘Signed in Blood Battalion’ held dozens of engineers and staff hostage for four days, rigging them up to explosives before the Algerian military ended the siege in a blaze of gunfire. Six Britons were among 40 foreigners killed. The papers duly announced ‘PM vows to hunt down terrorists behind Algeria hostage attack’. An inquest finally opened this month and a number of minor suspects are in custody in Algeria, but the hunt for the ringleader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has gone cold. He is reported to be recruiting jihadist fighters returning from Syria. The task of following up these cases usually falls to the detectives of SO15, the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, with help from intelligence agencies. But they can only work with the information they are given and do not have a mandate to fly around interviewing suspects. In the murky world of tracking terrorists, intelligence is hard to come by. Even the Americans, with all the terabytes of the NSA’s eavesdropping capabilities at their disposal, do not always pounce in the right place at the right time. Without a well-placed informant inside the hostage-taking cell it is extremely hard to track people who have multiple aliases, rarely show their faces in public and are able to move vast distances over remote areas in nondescript vehicles. Even if the intelligence agencies can locate a suspected kidnapper and murderer, how do they arrest him? The Americans have had some success seizing suspects, sometimes controversially, in Pakistan and Libya, but most are unlikely to give up without a fight. Often issues of sovereignty make it impossible or impractical for British investigators to get close to the people they are seeking to bring to justice. Algeria, which fought a long and bitter war of independence, understandably guards its sovereignty closely. These hostage horrors are not going to go away. So next time some hapless Briton is murdered and our leaders vow to bring those responsible to justice, they might want to bear in mind what’s pinned to the wall of an upstairs office in New Scotland Yard: the clues and leads as to who might have killed Edwin Dyer in the Sahara five years ago. The pieces of paper have long since faded and curled, the thin lines of red tape lead nowhere.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Frank Gardner is the BBC’s security correspondent.

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Show comments
  • Rik

    I dont want him caught i dont want him returned to British justice which would mean a “life” sentence of what? 10/12 years in a comfy cell with three squares a day,spouting his vile philosophy to other prisoners.Retribution or not i simply want him and hid ilk DEAD

    • Damaris Tighe

      I want retribution.

      • AJH1968

        If the perpetrators are found we can all expect a nauseating flood of platitudes. The prime minister will thank a community who spawned this evil for their co-operation and the press will give us a human interest story from family and friends. I think the Israeli solution to the families of suicide bombers is the best, but you can just imagine the outcry (from people who should know better).

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Retribution, never put off to tomorrow those you can kill today.

      • AJH1968

        I do not
        know if you have seen the film ‘Mars Attacks’ but it seems like the right
        metaphor to me. The craven response of the President in the film and the
        reaction of the Martian invaders (The Martian’s laugh at the Presidents peaceful advances) seem to me like Cameron’s continued platitudes
        in the face of one provocation after the other (and he is not facing an enemy
        with vast technological and intellectual resources, in fact most of the time they are quite
        stupid). Time for action Mr Cameron.

        • Damaris Tighe

          I think I may have seen it, but there’s a Tetley Tea ad at the moment where the invading aliens are tamed with a nice cuppa – is this Cameron’s intention I wonder?

        • Mike

          Yep, I have that movie and thats a good analogy.

      • ilPugliese

        Retribution provides some closure to the victim’s family and friends, and to the public.

  • greggf

    ‘We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice, however long it takes,’

    Governments tell lies; they use the same techniques as Joseph Goebbels used to use and for the same reasons – to hoodwink the populace.
    At least the Americans, and Israelis, are prepared to seek vengeance but Britain is cowed by placard-waving militant muslims on the streets of Britain, the thought of provoking another Lee Rigby and the persistant institutional atmosphere of denial that Islam is any threat.
    It must have seemed like this in 1938 and just before……

    • bobmattfran

      Considering that the US are directly responsible for causing most of the problems in the Middle East by interference, regime change, illegal wars, theft of other countries and resources just to prop up the corrupt warmongering USA and its merchants of death I suggest you have a rethink regarding both justice and retribution. Israel has avoided sanctions for its behaviour and flouting of international Law by the veto of the USA and on ocassion by the weak politicians of the UKI who blindly follow Washingtons instructions. The USA considers that its laws are applicable worldwide and do not respect or attempt to understand other countries or their governments. For Cameron to make empty promises just confirms the arrogance and ignorance of yet another political puppet of the USA. Britain is not cowed, it is continuously lied to, and various parts of society are delberately targetted by government as scapegoats to deflect attention from their own dishonest and scurrilous activities. If their was no terrorism in the world, the USA would create it to prop up their arms sales and use it as an excuse for more control of their population. We have been fed the Ameican lies for years, with NATO being used as an example of “security” for the West. NATO was created for one reason only, to protect the USA from any war arriving on its own soil. Their interest is Europe is cynical, Europe and the UK are expendable when America’s military and commercial nterests are involved, it is nothing more than an extension of the Monroe doctrine modified by McCarthyism and preached by the hawks in the Pentagon. The world would be a far better place with America returning all its troops back to America and closing all its foreign bases. The cost in blood and wealth to other nations due to US foreign adventures is not a cost worth paying.

      • logdon

        Thank god you don’t know what paragraphs are, thus removing any desire to read past the first bit of drivel.

        • bobmattfran

          So sorry i thought I was addressing people with a modicum of intelligence. Obviously words of more than one sylable are a problem with your level of reading. It must be past your bedtime.

          • logdon

            And yet more drivel.

          • ilPugliese

            You begin with an assumption that a lot of people disagree with, because it’s just a made up idea to try and fit some model conclusion you want to prove. For example, to disprove your entire theory, how was the US threatened by Serbia? No, so you’re making this up, and I can stop there.

          • bobmattfran

            I am not attempting to prove anything, I am not assuming anything, I am just referinng to defence notes in the public domain, the use of logic and the profound deception of politiicans. Try again.

          • Mike

            1926, World Islamic Congress, also in the public domain !

          • Mike

            And I hoped you could check out a few historical facts.

      • greggf

        You seem to be talking about a different issue bob, than the one addressed here.
        Now I guess you would say that the one is a result of the other, but a policy of American Isolation was tried before involving Woodrow Wilson and others but didn’t work either – remember WWs 1 & 2.
        The point is all big powers exert hegemony where they may: China does it – try changing North Korea – , Russia does it in Ukraine, the EU wants to do it in Eastern Europe etc., and the US does it in South America. It’s often not pretty as we see in North Korea, Ukraine, the Balkans and Venezuela but that’s power politics.

      • jesseventura2

        Not all muslims are terrorists but all our terrorists are muslim?

      • Mike

        I’ll try again, read your history, 90 years ago the World Islamic Congress came out with a clear stated agenda to create a Caliphate across the whole world. Only since 1942 has the USA become involved in world affairs and was isolationist for many years while while Islam plotted its sick game.

        • bobmattfran

          So you have completely redacted that part of history which evidenced interference by the USA in the south American States by the International fruit compny aka the CIA ho w very convenient for you. The USA deliberately undermined elected governments in Siuth America because they were not of the political persuasion that supported the USA. Well done for being what you are a hypocrite.

          • Mike

            “Considering that the US are directly responsible for causing most of the problems in the Middle East by interference, regime change, illegal wars, theft of other countries and resources just to prop up the corrupt warmongering USA”

            I do believe this was your quote but correct me if I’m wrong.

            You were talking about the Middle East, the Article is about the Middle East and I was talking about the Middle East. As I keep trying to point out, the USA was isolationist in 1926 and the CIA didn’t form until after WWII.

            What part of Islamic world domination since its formation and specifically in 1926 do you not get !!!!!

          • bobmattfran

            Try Iran in 1908 when the US armed rebels (no big surprise there) to protect their “interests” nThe US has interfered for years around the globe without any consideration for other countries. My argument still stands, and just to remind you of one other despicable thing that the US have done in recent past, they used depleted uranium shells in the war against Iraq risking the lives of not only the civilian population but also their coalition partners. I suppose in your twisted world greed and profit outweigh the value of human life.

          • Mike

            You’ve lost me and I suspect everyone else now as I cannot find any reference to any armed conflict, guerrilla action or rebellion in Iran that involved America or Americans.

            However, there was a rebellion against the then Shah of Iran and he tried to subdue and eliminate the Majles with the military and political support of Russia and the UK. No mention of anything about ANY American involvement so perhaps you can enlighten us all of your version of history.

            Wars leave all sorts of life threatening s*** around for decades later and we see that all the time in Germany & the UK with bombs surfacing 70 years later. America is no different to any other nation that has gone to war. Dead is dead whether HE munitions, Uranium tipped weapons or more likely being beheaded by some Islamic nut job.

          • Brian

            You appear to find it abhorrent that the USA and other western countries interfere around the globe to protect their interests. I wonder what your position would be if this interference suddenly stopped and life in the west came to a virtual halt when commodities such as oil ran out?

          • bobmattfran

            Life in the West wouold be greatly enhanced by no unnecessary wars, no interference of elected governments by a bent, bankrupt warmongering, arrogant USA who thinks it owns the world. Get over it.

          • Brian

            Life in the west would certainly not be greatly enhanced if there was no oil. So again, what happens when it runs out?
            ‘Get over it’ is so cliched.

          • bobmattfran

            Why misquote me, I said life would improve without the waqrmongering interference of the USA or was that too mmuch for you to swallow? The US does not own the main olil producing countries in the world but insists that oil is traded in $US giving the USA a 10 – 12% advantage over every other country using oil, petrol and gas. So do try and keep up. Russia has plenty of gas and oil which the US are doing their best to sanction with their disgraceful destabilisation of Ukraine funded by $5Billion from the US State Department, but of course your selective memory fails to remember that. The US like it or not is the single greatest threat to peace in the world, funding terrorists to do their dirty work is all in a days work for the corrupt US government.

          • Brian

            Where did I misquote you? You originally wrote, and I quote,
            “Life in the west wouold be greatly enhanced by no unnecessary wars, no interference” etc. Do you really believe that there is any country, with the means, that does not interfere for what it sees as its own good? Again, what happens if the oil runs out?

      • Roy

        An assortment of malicious lies and propaganda. America helped to finish off two world wars. They were reluctant to get involved. The fight against communism and its spread was on-going. All the time the USSR was stirring the mud and never have been conducive to a free world order. Two examples of countries that have been freed through USA involvement are Japan and South Korea. Two very small but very rich countries that have taken advantage of America’s freedom. Not to mention the world at large that has been indirectly protected. The ability of America and Britain to keep the sea lanes open to trade is a matter of life and death. It is this they have fought to protect for generations and likely to continue. When the present US administration sees fit to use its own formidable oil reserves, along with a lessening of any threat through terrorist action to the homeland, we could see a lessening of reasons for its involvement in the Middle East. It will be then that we see a withdrawal of American power, which would mean a lessening of freedom in the area. A trade-off you are no doubt unable to see through your blinkered view.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    …bringing the killer to justice…
    This is total nonsense in the context of a war environment. You don’t arrest the enemy, collect evidence, take witness statements, convene a trial, reach a verdict …
    You kill the enemy. Not necessarily one specific enemy, but as many as possible and quickly as possible until they grasp that the game is no longer worth the candle.

    • bobmattfran

      Has anyone yet declared war using the conventions for war laid down by the UN charter? NO so stop talking B/S THis is nothing more than the “Axis of Evil” nonsense used by Bush to frighten the brainwashed population and attempt to justify another illegal war to support the hegemony of the USA.

  • beenzrgud

    The US doesn’t pay ransoms, but it does hunt down and kill those who have committed atrocities against its citizens. This is now well known, even amongst the crazies doing all the kidnapping. I’d be interested to see if this policy has effected how ‘valuable’ American hostages are now seen to be. In the current situation we know where a lot of these terrorists are, plus they’re driving round in a sparsely populated desert waving large guns around. How hard can it be to make sure they don’t bother anyone again, really !

  • edlancey

    Perhaps if, like Gardner, they had grovelled by claiming to be muslims, they might have been spared.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    If justice is a matter of being a life culture or a death culture I’d rather remain as we are in a culture of life. We don’t have a death sentence here in the UK thank God and we should have no business in bomping off even the worst terrorists/ nutters/criminals without giving them a proper trial.

    It’s probably true to say a culture of life will always fall prey to people who glorify and worship death as the way to achieve their goals. But the love of life is far bigger and better than the love of death, in my view – and if all nations across the world would only get rid of the death sentence – as well as the pointless pandering to ransom mongers – we really would be onto a winner I think.

    The murder of innocent people on the part of criminals will never be put right on our part by simply killing or arranging for the extermination of particular people, without a system of justice that respects all our rights as members of the general public and/or citizens of the world.

    • picquet

      Certainly the civilised approach, but it’s certainly true that gangs in the ME are very wary of kidnapping any Russian, and I don’t think that Russian or Chinese ships have piracy high on their risk register. There’s a reason for that…

      • ConstablePlod

        Exactly Picquet!
        During the 1980’s kidnapping wave in Lebanon, when Terry Waite John McCarthy et al were being taken and ransomed by Islamic hostage takers, a Russian trade delegate was also kidnapped. Two days later the body of a ranking Islamic faction leader turned up on his doorstep dead with his sex organs removed and stuffed in his mouth.
        The Russian hostage was returned almost immediately and since then, very few Russians have ever been taken.

    • Tom M

      You sound like someone who looks at the recorded 10,000years of human history as a series of repeated failures of attempts at civilisation and only we now have found the way to peace and happiness in the world by banning the death penalty.

    • Bonkim

      No harm eliminating ISIS operatives where they are even if there is no capital punishment in the U.K. You don’t think twice about eradicating vermin.

  • Jamie McMillan

    UK needs to make up its mind. Not OK to pay ransom because money pays for terrorism, but is OK to pay bribes to Middle East arms sales fixers where untraceable cash probably ends up also paying for terrorism.

  • will91

    Tell me about it! Try asking Michelle Obama and that plethora of celebrity trendies holding their stupid f@#king placards a few months ago. #bringbackourgirls. Those poor girls, after a brief week on the news they are now forgotten. We need a new campaign #bringbackourballs

    • Liz

      What do you have in mind?

      • will91

        1) Utilise the full extent of our technological superiority and don’t be shy about wielding it against them.

        2) Stop saying “This has nothing to do with Islam” This line has now gone beyond self-delusion and into a realm of pure fantasy. Clearly it does have something to do with Islam, the very fact that these people choose to behead captured prisoners is akin to Muhammad who himself had several hundred prisoners beheaded. Clearly their is basis for this in Islam.

  • Innit Bruv

    “Mission accomplished” George Bush May 2003

    • bobmattfran

      Yep Bush’s legacy Iraq destroyed, Libya destroyed, Afghanistan a total mess and now Obaama not content with the mess the US has created is moving on to Syria, Iran, Russia and sabre rattling at Venezueal, he mad veiled threats to China who with their usual polite inscrutability ignored the little man and his tou soldiers in the Pentagon and the State Department.

  • jesseventura2

    Cameron who inherited his fathers disablement genes and passed them on to the delicious Sam Cam and their son ls a weak character like Tony the phony Blair who is still allowing the enemy immigrant vermin to enter UK.

    • bobmattfran

      What short memories you guys have. Who created Al-Quaeda? The CIA., and look what it has morphed into? ISIS. Everything the US touches in Middle East turns to cr@p which then nturns against them. Wake up this is just the USA prolonging terrorism for their own profit and that of their arms dealing merchants of death. As much as I detest Cameron he is not yet sacrificing our military’s blood to support the USA’s foreign interference.

      • Bonkim

        The Caliphate has been going for centuries – now and then bursting into action.

      • Mike

        Try reading some history to get your facts right. In 1926 decades before America got on the world scene, the World Islamic Congress convened a conference to set in motion a plan to take of the world.

        Over 90% of wars going on in the world today are from Islamic groups whether against each other or against the west, whether we involve ourselves or leave them to it wont change their blood letting..

    • Brian

      As too the first part, and they say that the Conservatives are the nasty party.

  • Bonkim

    Nobody believes such promises.

  • gerronwithit

    So what is wrong with ‘retribution’ when there is little or no chance of justice, or does that simply offend the sensibilities of the liberal elite who have deconstructed much of our values and society?

    • Mike

      Whilst Islam has its barbaric edicts we have our “an eye for an eye”, sounds very fair to me to take out the killers by any means possible.

  • Liz

    Hostages need to stop negotiating with terrorists. It doesn’t save their lives to read out the propaganda, they must know this by now. So refuse to do it.

  • Mike

    Its perverse that the religion of peace makes no moral distinction between genuine aid workers or captured western soldiers when it comes to be-heading them and the west is accused of stereotyping all Muslims. If they’re not carrying out their barbaric executions, many others give tacit support & encouragement and the remainder look the other way in denial of the facts.

    How often does any Muslim organization IMMEDIATELY come out and condemn ALL acts of violence be them in Syria or Rotherham ? NEVER !

  • Roy

    Yet these rogues, murderers, live amongst you, taking their living allowances, housing allocations, and medical expenses from the public purse as if they have contributed to these for a thousand years.

  • For those not in the know, the so-called Ukrainian “separatists” are actually Russian Spetsnaz and Guards Airborne troops, which is why a Russian colonel, Igor Strelkov, is in command and not a Ukrainian.*

    These disguised Russian military units entered the Ukraine last February when the Ukrainian population, nationwide, revolted against the Communist government in Kiev,** the cause for the revolt being the weakened security apparatus within the nation, where most of the Ukrainian Army was in either Syria or Iraq, or preparing to enter Iraq from Turkey, pretending to be Muslim “Jihadists” (Islamic State). The Islamic State “Jihadists” wearing the silly masks are the Ukrainians, hiding their pale Caucasian/Slavic identities. Russian special forces posing as Ukrainian separatists are allied with the remnants of the Ukrainian security apparatus in the nation and are attempting to restore Communist “order”.

    Moscow & Allies tasked the West to create Islamic State in southern Turkey (using Ukrainian troops to augment the fake “Islamists”) in order (1) to continue spotlighting the chaos the West causes around the globe, though it’s actually Moscow & Allies causing the chaos via their Marxist puppets in Western capitals; thereby (2) decreasing the prominence of the West in the eyes of the world; and (3) further weaken the United States Armed Forces via never ending wars per Moscow & Allies’ tasked “War on Terror”; the United States Armed Forces will be re-deployed to Iraq.

    The fraudulent “collapse” of the USSR (and East Bloc) couldn’t have been pulled off until both political parties in the United States (and political parties elsewhere in the West) were co-opted by Moscow & Allies, which explains why verification of the “collapse” was never undertaken by the West, such verification being (1) a natural administrative procedure (since the USSR wasn’t occupied by Western military forces); and (2) necessary for the survival of the West. Recall President Reagan’s favorite phrase, “Trust, but verify”.

    Notice that not one political party in the West demanded verification of the collapse of the USSR, and the media failed to alert your attention to this fact, including the “alternative” media. When determining whether the “former” USSR is complying with arms control treaties, what does the United States do to confirm compliance? Right, the United States sends into the “former” USSR investigative teams to VERIFY compliance, yet when it’s the fate of the West that’s at stake should the collapse of the USSR be a ruse, what does the United States do to confirm the collapse? Nothing!

    It gets worse–the West also never (1) de-Communized the Soviet Armed Forces of its Communist Party officer corps, which was 90% officered by Communist Party members; and (2) arrested and detained the 6-million vigilantes that assisted the Soviet Union’s Ministry of the Interior and police control the populations of the larger cities during the period of “Perestroika” (1986-1991)!

    There can be no collapse of the USSR (or East Bloc nations) without…

    Verification, De-Communization and De-mobilization.

    —————————————–

    * https://spectator.com.au/features/9298982/the-frightening-face-of-russias-future/

    **As hundreds of statues of Lenin were being toppled throughout the Ukraine, statues that were supposed to have been toppled back in 1991 if the collapse of the USSR were real and not the strategic ruse it is…

    http://leninstatues.ru/leninopad

  • cartimandua

    We have Muslim prisoners we don’t want. Offer them publicly a swap and then bomb the cr** out of them later. If IS refuse the swap they lose face.

  • Kasperlos

    Politician + Promises = Hollow. Cheap promises are doled out like so many plastic toys from China. They know full well that the attention span challenged masses soon tire and forget what was said – if they even listened to them move their lips in the first instance. Nothing has changed.

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