A Briton will be the next hostage murdered by Islamist terrorists, the British extremist known as “Jihadi John” threatened on Tuesday as he beheaded a second American journalist and announced “I’m back”.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) carried out its threat to murder Steven Sotloff, the US citizen who was shown last month in the video of the murder of his fellow American, James Foley.
Just as Mr Sotloff appeared as the next potential victim at the end of the Foley video, the British hostage, wearing a Guantánamo Bay-style jumpsuit, is shown on his knees as the latest video draws to a close.
In a clear message to David Cameron, the British terrorist says: “We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”
The killer does not refer to the Briton by name, but his name is shown on screen as a signal of Isil’s intent that he is the next intended victim.
In a horrific carbon copy of the murder of Mr Foley, Mr Sotloff was made to read a statement condemning America’s foreign policy in Iraq before his decapitated body is shown on screen.
Mr Cameron said: “If verified, this is a despicable and barbaric murder. My thoughts and prayers are with Mr Sotloff’s family and friends tonight as they deal with this appalling and tragic situation.
“As I have said consistently over the last few weeks, Isil terrorists speak for no religion. They threaten Syrians, Iraqis, Americans and British people alike and make no distinction between Muslims, Christians or any other faith.
“We have already been working hard to keep British people safe and we will continue to do all we can to protect our country and our people from these barbaric terrorists.”
The Briton was abducted in March last year near the Atmeh refugee camp on the Turkish border with the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Mr Cameron has been regularly briefed on attempts to free the British hostage, and Whitehall sources have said that a failed attempt by US special forces this summer to free 40-year-old Mr Foley was also intended to free the Briton, among others.
The Prime Minister said that he would lead a meeting of the Cabinet’s emergency Cobra committee this morning “to review these latest developments”.
The British hostage, whose identity has not been formally confirmed by the Foreign Office, is a father in his mid-40s who works in logistics.
The Foreign Office said the man’s family, who live in Scotland, had been informed. Members of his family, including his brother, were on their way to his parents’ home to comfort them.
A relation would only say last night: “We’re not allowed to say anything.”
The new video will intensify pressure on MI6, Scotland Yard and the FBI to identify the British jihadist, who has a deep voice and a London accent.
He appears in both films and is assumed to be the murderer of both Mr Sotloff and Mr Foley. He is thought to be one of more than 500 Britons who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with Islamist terrorist groups.
There were fears last night that the British hostage could already be dead, after sources in the US suggested that the Sotloff and Foley murders may have been carried out at the same time.
In the latest video, titled A Second Message to America, the jihadist who is nicknamed John by hostages, as one of four British kidnappers known as The Beatles, stands by Mr Sotloff’s side, holding a knife in his left hand.
He addresses Barack Obama directly, saying that the US president was to blame for Mr Sotloff’s beheading because of his “insistence on continuing your bombings … despite our serious warnings”.
Mr Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist from Florida who was kidnapped last year, says in the video: “I am Steven Joel Sotloff. I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing before you. And now this time for my message.
“Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life? Am I not an American citizen?
“You’ve spent billions of US taxpayers’ dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State, so where is the people’s interest in reigniting this war?
“From what little I know about foreign policy, I remember a time you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back home from Iraq and Afghanistan and to close down Guantánamo.
“Here you are now, Obama, nearing the end of your term, and having achieved none of the above, and deceivingly marching us, the American people, in the blazing fire.”
The killer says: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings … despite our serious warnings.
“Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Mr Sotloff’s mother recorded a video after the death of Mr Foley pleading with the terror group for her son’s release.
A spokesman for the Sotloff family said last night: “The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately.”
The video appeared within days of US air strikes around the Iraqi town of Amirli that helped break a two-month siege by Isil on the area.
Jihadi John mentions US air strikes on the Mosul Dam, which helped break an earlier Isil siege.
Jen Psaki, a spokesman for the US State Department, said that the US was “sickened by this brutal act”, adding: “Our hearts go out to the Sotloff family”.