In Depth

Islamic State: what is UK doing to free British hostages?

Second John Cantlie propaganda video released by militants accusing UK of 'abandoning' its hostages

140919-cantlie.jpg

Islamic State militants have released a second propaganda video featuring British hostage John Cantlie, who again declared that he has been "abandoned" by the UK. In the six-minute speech, read from a pre-prepared script, the freelance photographer and reporter warned the West against military attacks on his captors. Cantlie was kidnapped two years ago with his close friend and fellow photographer James Foley, the first US hostage to be murdered on video by Islamic State last month. Foley's execution was followed by those of another US journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines. Alan Henning, a British volunteer, has been named as the group's next victim. So what is the UK doing to free the British hostages held by Islamic State and what approach are other countries taking?

Military efforts

British special forces are trying to gather intelligence on Islamic State hostage-takers, according to The Guardian, although the British government refuses to comment on the activities of the SAS or its naval equivalent, the SBS. David Cameron has vowed to "hunt down" the fanatics who killed Haines. However, last week Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond admitted to reporters that British forces were unable to mount a rescue attempt because they do not know where the hostages are being detained.

Ransoms

A group claiming links with Islamic State last night threatened to kill a French hostage in Algeria within 24 hours if France continued its airstrikes in Iraq. Hervé Pierre Gourdel, from Nice, was seized while hiking in mountains west of Algiers on Sunday. France has said it will do everything it can to free Gourdel, but insisted that a terrorist group would not change its military position and said there would be "no discussion, no negotiation" with the kidnappers. Nevertheless, the Daily Telegraph points out that the French, Italian and Spanish governments, along with others in Continental Europe, have "a long record of directly paying ransoms".

Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly ruled out paying ransoms and has reprimanded other countries for doing so. The Telegraph says that the US and UK have stuck to this policy. The US has even launched prosecutions for funding terrorism against organisations who try to pay ransoms for their employees. But this is not the case in the UK, says the newspaper, where experience suggests the British government "will turn a blind eye" if others offer a ransom. Nevertheless, according to the Daily Mail, volunteers who were on an aid convoy with British hostage Alan Henning offered his kidnappers hundreds of thousands of pounds to free him but had their offer rejected.

Negotiations

Cantlie's second video comes after Turkey persuaded Islamic State to free 49 hostages, prompting speculation that a deal was struck. The official line from Ankara is that no money was exchanged, but Ian Woods at Sky News says "fellow members of Nato will be concerned that Turkey will have promised Islamic State that it won't join military operations led by the United States". Woods suggests the release could have been Islamic State's attempt to demonstrate that it is open to negotiations, therefore highlighting the "folly" of Britain and America's refusal to do enter negotiations. Indeed, in Cantlie's first video, the script that he read urged the UK government to "negotiate" with Islamic State, claiming that European countries negotiated to get their hostages home while "the British and Americans were left behind". 

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