The Government will examine “every possible option” to protect a British hostage threatened with death by Islamic State extremists, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said.
Following a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee, Mr Hammond said a “preliminary analysis” of a video released last night purporting to show the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff suggested it was genuine.
He said a masked British-accented jihadist who appeared in the footage also seemed to be the same man who apparently carried out the killing of US reporter James Foley two weeks ago.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Sotloff. We are doing everything we can to reassure the family of the British hostage who was shown in the video,” he said.
Mr Hammond confirmed that the Government had been aware of the British hostage shown in the latest video for “some time”.
“You wouldn’t expect me to discuss the various options that we will be considering but I can assure you that we will look at every possible option to protect this person,” he said.
He acknowledged that a US attempt to rescue the hostages – thought to be held by IS in Syria – had ended in failure.
He stressed that the Government would not change its overall strategy and would not be deflected from launching air strikes against IS if they were considered necessary.
“It doesn’t make any difference at all to our strategic planning. As the Prime Minister said, we will look very carefully at the options available to us to support the legitimate government of Iraq and Kurdistan in defending themselves from (IS),” he said.
“If we judge that air strikes could be beneficial, could be the best way to do that, then we will certainly consider them but we have made no decision to do so at the moment.”