Cameron gives up holiday as UK executioner raises stakes

Cameron appears to agree with John Humphrys that his holiday was 'unseemly' after beheading

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:13 ON Wed 20 Aug 2014

The revelation that a US journalist has apparently been executed in cold blood by a British member of the Islamic State raises the stakes for David Cameron's government - and has brought the PM scurrying back to London from his holiday in Cornwall.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond expressed his “horror” on Radio 4's Today programme at the beheading in the desert of freelance journalist James Foley, who had been kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago.

A video clip posted on YouTube by IS, showing Foley dressed in a Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuit as he met his fate, has "all the hallmarks" of being genuine, Hammond confirmed. And Foley's executioner, who said the killing was in revenge for American's attacks on IS positions, clearly speaks with a strong London accent.

In a round of TV and radio studios, Hammond said that intelligence services in the UK and US would work together to identify those involved in Foley’s murder. 

"We have been saying for a long time that there are a significant number of British nationals in Syria and Iraq operating with extremist organisations," he said.

"That's one of the reasons why this organisation represents such a direct threat to the UK's national security. Many of these people may seek at some point to return to the UK and they would then pose a direct threat to our domestic security."

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has warned that more home-grown British terrorists would return if IS was pushed back in Iraq. But Hammond made plain the UK has no choice but to support the attacks on IS in Iraq.

"If the Islamic State, so-called, becomes established in Syria and Iraq it will undoubtedly use it as a base for attacks on the West. Equally, if it gets pushed back, some of these people will return to their countries of origin – it’s not just the UK, it’s all European countries, Australia, the US, potentially carrying on their fight in their homelands."Today presenter John Humphrys pressed Hammond to admit that the beheading of Foley – still to be confirmed as genuine by Washington - means that the UK is now at war with IS, despite the British government's reluctance to get drawn into fighting on the ground.

"We are very clear we are utterly opposed to the evil ideology of this organisation, the barbaric cruelty they have displayed. We are opposed to them with every breath in our body and will continue to oppose them. Any kind of threat they make that if we oppose them they will come after us, frankly, we are way past that.

"They are waging war on moderate Islamic opinion and waging war against the West and we have to deal with them on that basis.’

Pushed by Humphrys to say what British policy on Iraq now was, Hammond could not give a clear answer. He said the UK was banking on a new, more inclusive Baghdad government finding a solution, and we were prepared to back that government by training its troops to fight the Islamic State forces. 

So, did that mean boots on the ground, asked Humphrys. No, said Hammond. It was possible to train Iraqi soldiers without going that far, he said. And nor would the presence of SAS troops in Iraq (which he refused to confirm for security reasons) count as "boots on the ground".

Hammond’s early morning tour of the broadcasting studios was, in effect, a public relations offensive against the criticism, raised by The Mole yesterday, of David Cameron’s decision to take a second holiday at such a critical moment, and the calls from former defence chiefs Lord Dannatt and General Sir Michael Rose for a recall of Parliament so that we can decide once and for all whether the UK is joining the fight against IS.

Hammond rejected the suggestion by Humphrys that it was “unseemly” to have the PM relaxing in sandals on a family holiday in Polzeath while a Briton – in all likelihood – can be seen online beheading an American journalist.

But Cameron himself saw it differently and it was announced later this morning that he would return from Cornwall to London to chair today's meeting of Cobra. ·