LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday condemned the “despicable” killing of British aid worker David Haines by Islamic State extremists and vowed to do everything possible to hunt down his killers and bring them to justice.
“Step by step we will drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL and what it stands for. We will do so in a calm, deliberate way but with an iron determination,” Cameron said in a televised statement, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
Cameron, who led an emergency government meeting Sunday to discuss the killing, said the country was “sickened” that a Briton could have done this to a fellow Briton.
Islamic State militants on Saturday released a video showing Haines being executed in the same grisly manner as two American journalists in recent weeks, along with a threat to kill another British hostage, Alan Henning.
The video, titled “A Message to Allies of America,” shows Haines, a 44-year-old Scot, clad in an orange jump-suit kneeling beside a man who speaks in the same London-accented English as the apparent executioner in videos of the two previous killings.
In his address Sunday, Cameron stressed Britain’s support for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq but did not indicate whether the country would join the United States in direct military intervention. Britain has offered humanitarian aid and arms to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Although Cameron has come under domestic pressure to join the U.S. military operation in Iraq, it seems unlikely that any decision will be made soon ,with the British leader focused on Scotland, which on Thursday will vote on whether to break away from the United Kingdom.
Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said that Britain will probably join the U.S. effort in some fashion but that any serious signals of that intent at this time would “provide wind in the sails of the nationalists.”
“It brings back painful memories of the Blair period,” he said, referring to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was deeply unpopular with Scotland. “It would be very easy for nationalists in Scotland to claim that, ‘See, this is what happens if you remain part of the U.K. You are a poodle to the Americans, you get dragged into any conflict that’s going on. There will be no movement until at least this Friday, when the ballot boxes are sealed,” he said.
He said that the Scottish electorate is center-left and that the argument that Westminster politicians have dragged the U.K. into unnecessary wars has been part and parcel of the nationalist tune in Scotland.
When Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland, was asked by the BBC on Sunday about an independent Scotland’s view on airstrikes against the Islamic State, he did not rule them out but said, “There’s an urgent requirement to get back to collective action under the United Nation. . . . There is a real opportunity, I would have thought, for effective, international, legal action, but it must come in that fashion.” Salmond has previously called the 2003 invasion of Iraq an “illegal war.”
Haines — whom Cameron deemed a “British hero” — was happiest when helping people in need in some of the world’s most dangerous locations, according to his family.
When he was abducted in March 2013 near the Atmeh refugee camp along the Turkish border in the Syrian province of Idlib, he was working for the French aid agency ACTED. In a statement, ACTED singled out his “generosity, commitment, and his professionalism.”
The news of Haines’s abduction was kept quiet until this month, when he was seen at the end of a video showing the killing of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff.
Mike Haines, David Haines’s brother, described him as “just another bloke” who “was and is loved by all his family and will be missed terribly.”
“He was, in the right mood, the life and soul of the party and on other times the most stubborn irritating pain in the ass,” Mike said in a statement released to the Foreign Office.
Mike Haines said his brother had been an aircraft engineer with the Royal Air Force and, after leaving the service, had been energized by a new career working for aid groups in conflict zones, including South Sudan, Libya and Syria.
“David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles,” Mike said. “His joy and anticipation for the work he went to do in Syria is for myself and family the most important element of this whole sad affair.”
David Haines is survived by his wife, Dragana, and their 4-year-old daughter, Athea, who live in Croatia, and his teenage daughter, Bethany, who lives in Scotland.