WASHINGTON – Prime Minister David Cameron is considering direct military action against Islamic State after the group murdered a British citizen on video, threatened the life of another, and warned the UK government to reject military cooperation with the United States.
The news of David Haines’s murder broke at a twilight hour in London on Sunday morning.
Haines’s life was threatened two weeks ago, in a video showing the beheading of Israeli-American journalist Steven Sotloff.
Cameron rushed to 10 Downing Street before sunrise on Sunday, convening an urgent cabinet meeting of his top national security, police and defense officials.
Islamic State’s crime was heinous and un-Islamic, he said.
“They are not Muslims. They are monsters,” Cameron told the press after the meeting. “We will hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice, no matter how long it takes.”
Speaking on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a visiting Israel Bonds delegation that, “ISIS [Islamic State] and Hamas and al-Qaida and al-Nusra and Boko Haram and Hezbollah, supported by Iran – they’re branches of the same poisonous tree. It’s the same ideology with minor nuances.”
“What’s the great difference between ISIS and Hamas? The great difference, supposedly, between ISIS and Hamas is that those, the former, lop heads off and the others shoot people in the head,” he said.
“We have been notified today of another act of savagery from ISIS and I send our condolences to the people of Britain. We understand what kind of barbarism they face. We also understand that we have great tasks for defending our country as a result of these dangers that are enveloping our region,” Netanyahu said.
While MPs were prone to express their anger and condolence, former brass called on Cameron “not to be cowed.”
“Having worked in British government on hostage rescue, I know how much effort has gone in to saving David Haines,” said Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. “Now is the time for retribution.”
Cameron indicated, however, that direct action by the UK was not imminent, despite broad support for the US mission.
“The United States is taking direct military action. We support that,” he said. “British Tornadoes [combat aircraft] and surveillance aircraft have been helping with intelligence gathering and logistics.”
“This is not about British combat troops on the ground,” he added. “It is about working with others to extinguish this terrorist threat.”
Any military action by the UK might require parliamentary debate, as set by precedent after British participation in the Iraq War, and with a vote one year ago in Parliament on the use of force against President Bashar Assad of Syria.
That proposal was rejected.
Haines, 44, was raised in Perth, Scotland.
The US, however, has delivered specific, formal requests to governments worldwide for direct military assistance in its fight against Islamic State, announced by US President Barack Obama last week.
“We have, within about the last 24 hours, received a specific request from the United States government to contribute forces to possible military action in Iraq,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said from Darwin, announcing his government’s decision to acquiesce.
Australia will send a military force of 600 personnel to the United Arab Emirates, which itself will participate in the coalition, prepared to strike Iraq alongside the US. Abbott did not mention conducting air strikes in Syria.
Obama strongly condemned Haines’s murder on Saturday night, calling the act “barbaric.”
“The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve,” he said. “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.”
Haines, a former aid worker, was the third Western national beheaded on video by the group in three weeks.
James Foley, an American, and Steven Sotloff, an Israeli-American, were both journalists covering the Syrian civil war.
In a private dinner with Washington foreign policy experts and former government officials last week, Obama said that a campaign against Islamic State would be long and sustained.
He suggested that the videos released by Islamic State had done more to galvanize public support for action than anything he could have said as president, according to a report in The New York Times.
Obama has ruled out sending troops into Syria, where the group is based and controls substantial territory.
But some countries have offered to contribute ground forces, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday.
“We’re not looking to put troops on the ground,” Kerry said. “There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that at this moment anyway.”
Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, said on Sunday that Kerry would soon announce a list of countries “ready to fly” with the US.
The US-led coalition, thus far, includes contributions of military, financial or political support from members of NATO, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, among others.Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.