The Islamic State posted a video Saturday of the execution of a British aid worker for what the killer said was retaliation for Britain’s decision to join the international coalition that the United States is leading to fight the radical Islamist group.
David Cawthorne Haines was the third Westerner murdered by the Islamic State, and his executioner appeared to be the same as the suspected British militant who killed American freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The circumstances of Haines’ murder also were the same: He was seen kneeling in a sun-baked, desert-like setting, dressed in loose, orange-colored garments akin to surgical scrubs and flanked by his knife-wielding killer clad in black, most of his face sheathed in a scarf and turban.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement that it was working to confirm the veracity of the video. But posts by British Prime Minister David Cameron on Twitter left no doubt that that the British government believed the man was Haines, a father of two.
“My heart goes out to his family who have shown extraordinary courage and fortitude,” Cameron wrote.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned what he called “the barbaric murder” of Haines.
“Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Haines and to the people of the United Kingdom,” Obama said in a statement. “The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve. We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world.”
The video, like the Sept. 2 Sotloff video, was first detected by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private U.S. company that tracks extremist Internet chatrooms and websites. It was posted only hours after Haines family issued a statement through the British government pleading for the Islamic State to make contact.
The 2:21-minute video was dubbed “A Message to the Allies of America.” It opened with a recording of Cameron issuing a statement on his government’s role in the U.S.-led effort to bolster Iraqi forces and the Kurdish militia against the offensive launched by the Islamic State in northern Iraq in mid June.
The video then showed the executioner standing beside Haines, 44, a former British soldier-turned-humanitarian worker who disappeared in Syria in March 2013, three days after crossing the border on a humanitarian mission for a French aid group, ACTED. He was taken with an Italian co-worker, Frederico Motka, who was among 15 European hostages released earlier this year reportedly after their governments paid ransoms.
Haines recited a statement blaming Cameron for his death for failing to heed an Islamic State warning to quit the U.S.-led coalition.
“My name is David Cawthorne Haines. I would like to declare that I hold you, David Cameron, entirely responsible for my execution,” Haines said. “You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State, just as you're predecessor, Tony Blair, did, following a trend amongst our British Prime Ministers who can't find the courage to say no to the Americans.”
The executioner, speaking in a British accent similar to that of the killer of Foley and Sotloff, said that the victim was paying “the price” for Cameron’s decision to provide arms to the Kurdish militia, known as the Peshmerga.
“Ironically, he has spent a decade of his life serving under the same Royal Air Force that is responsible for delivering those arms,” the executioner said. “Your evil alliance with America which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam will only accelerate your destruction. And playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinnable war.”’
The video ended with the executioner placing his hand on the shoulder of a man he identified as another British citizen, Alan Henning.
“If you, Cameron, insist on fighting the Islamic State then you, like your master, Obama, will have the blood of your people on your hands,” he said.
Haines’ disappearance was kept secret until he was seen kneeling at the end of the video of Sotloff’s slaying, with the executioner promising that Haines would be the next killed if Cameron didn’t pull out of the U.S.-led coalition.
The video was posted just three days after Obama announced that he was building an international coalition to “destroy” the Islamic State and was prepared to extend U.S. airstrikes against the group from Iraq into its sanctuaries in civil war-torn Syria. He also announced that the United States would build a moderate Syrian opposition force to fight the extremists.
The British government has not said whether it will join the United States in launching airstrikes into Syria.
In his posts on Twitter, Cameron called Haines’ murder an “act of pure evil” and vowed to "do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice, however long it takes."
Once an affiliate of al Qaida, the Islamic State is fighting the regime of Bashar Assad as well as other rebel groups.
The Islamic State, which a recently revised CIA estimate put at up to 31,000 fighters, has declared a modern-day caliphate on the roughly half of Iraq and one-third of Syria it has overrun in waves of military attacks, mass executions and other atrocities.
The Haines video was posted on the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Egyptian government on the latest leg of a regional tour to enlist the cooperation of Arab leaders in the anti-Islamic State coalition.
Obama’s decision to intervene in Syria after three years of striving to limit U.S. involvement in the civil war was in part aided by worldwide revulsion at the executions of Foley in August and of Sotloff, which turned a majority of Americans in favor of airstrikes.
U.S. public opinion had been firmly against intervention despite the deaths of an estimated 190,000 people and the displacement of more than 9 million by the brutal fighting that erupted after Assad’s forces opened fire on peaceful protests demanding an end to his family’s four-decade-long grip on power.
But the strategy announced by Obama in a nationwide television address on Wednesday faces serious obstacles, including the lack of a competent opposition force on the ground that is strong enough to take and hold territory from which the Islamic State is driven by U.S. airstrikes.
The United States is still trying to drum up support for its fledgling coalition to combat the Islamic State. So far, the most likely military partners are France, the United Kingdom and Australia, though negotiations are ongoing about each country's role. Others have pledged humanitarian and diplomatic assistance.
Staff writers Hannah Allam and Anita Kumar contributed to this report.