LONDON (AP) — Islamic militants are using a beheading video to send a chilling message — not just through the gruesome act, but also by the choice of messenger.
The black-clad fighter who appears to kill journalist James Foley speaks with an English accent, underscoring the insurgents' increasing use of Western militants to mobilize recruits, terrify opponents and project the image of a global force.
He is the latest in a string of international jihadis — Britons, Australians, Chechens, Chinese and Indonesians — to appear in propaganda for the Islamic State group.
"They like to suggest they have a presence around the world much stronger than it is," said Charlie Cooper, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a British counter-extremism think tank. "It does suggest that people all over the world are going off to fight in the tens of thousands."
U.S. officials have confirmed the grisly video is authentic — an act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq. In Britain, the investigation focuses on the masked attacker. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the man had not yet been identified, but "from what we have seen it looks increasingly likely that is a British citizen."
Linguists described the man's accent as "multicultural London English," spoken by many young, inner-city residents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
"He sounds to me like a native speaker ... or a non-native who has spent a lot of time in London," said Dominic Watt, a forensic linguist at the University of York. Jane Setter, a professor of phonetics at the University of Reading, said the man was likely educated in the U.K. or in a U.K.-based system.
"They clearly wanted to use a fluent English speaker to ensure the clip was widely used in the U.S. media," said Peter Neumann, the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London. "An American would have been ideal, but there still aren't many American fighters in the conflict, and it may have been difficult to find one in the place where the hostage was held."
Syria's civil war, in its fourth year, has attracted thousands of foreign fighters from around the world. Several hundred people from Britain have traveled to Syria, according to official estimates, and some may have crossed into Iraq as Islamic State militants advanced. France and Germany have estimated a combined 1,300 of their citizens have joined the fight.
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