Philip Hammond has said intelligence agencies are “getting warm” on the identity of the militant seen in Islamic State’s (IS) beheading videos.
The Foreign Secretary also condemned the continuing hostage situation involving British aid worker Alan Henning, 47, after IS, also known as ISIL, sent an audio recording to his wife Barbara in which he pleads for his life.
It comes as the United States and Arab allies begun bombing parts of Syria where IS have gained a foothold, reportedly including the city of Raqqa where it is thought the former Salford taxi driver is being held.
Mr Hammond told American network CNN the investigation into the masked killer, dubbed Jihadi John and thought to be British, was closing the net.
Speaking to Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations summit in New York, he said: “We are getting warm, we are working on all the leads. There’s a big investigation and we are getting warm.
“We are narrowing down the field but I don’t want to say any more at this stage.”
Mr Henning, who appeared at the end of a video of the murder of British aid worker David Haines, was kidnapped last December in Syria by IS militants and Mrs Henning has again pleaded for them to release him.
The militant extremist group has previously released footage showing the killings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff as well as Mr Haines. The man known as Jihadi John is believed to appear in all three videos and seems to speak with a British accent.
Mr Hammond added: “What we do know is Alan Henning was out there simply to help. He was a humanitarian worker who went with an aid convoy organised by British Muslim groups to provide support to refugees in Syria.
“He was doing good and I think it speaks volumes about ISIL that this is the way they are treating somebody who went out there to help their people and support their communities in their time of need.”
Yesterday, a separate video released this week showed British photojournalist John Cantlie sitting at a desk reading from a prepared script and explaining that he would speak about IS in future videos. There was no threat to kill Mr Cantlie made on camera.
When asked by Mr Blitzer about the UK policy of not paying ransoms to terrorists, Mr Hammond said “absolutely right” and added he did not believe the Turkish government had paid for the release last weekend of 49 hostages held by IS.