While British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged yesterday to take “whatever steps are
necessary” to confront Islamic State after the beheading of a
U.K. hostage, no decisions are likely until after Scotland’s
With polls showing the Sept. 18 Scottish vote is too tight
to call, the possibility that the U.K. may break up after three
centuries is dominating British politics in the final days of
Cameron is under pressure from some members of his
Conservative Party and former military chiefs to join U.S. air
strikes against Islamic State after the group murdered aid
worker David Haines, a Scot, and threatened to kill another
Briton. Still, Cameron will return to Scotland today after he
led an emergency meeting of ministers and security officials
yesterday to discuss Haines’ murder.
“A British national being decapitated on video will
stiffen the resolve of a lot of people in favor of action, but
any decision is off until the week after next because Scotland
is such a big distraction,” Raffaello Pantucci, director of the
international security program at the Royal United Services
Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, said in a
Cameron, 47, described Islamic State yesterday as the
“embodiment of evil” as he made the case for an expanded role
for the U.K.
“We cannot ignore this threat to our security and that to
our allies,” he said in a televised statement. “We can’t just
walk on by if we are to keep this country safe; we have to
confront this menace.”
U.S. Air Strikes
The video purporting to show the beheading of Haines was
posted on Twitter by the Site Intel Group, a Bethesda, Maryland-based provider of news and information about jihadists. It’s
similar to videos that showed the executions of U.S. journalists
James Foley and Steven Joel Sotloff, and the killer appears to
be the same man, the Site group said.
The U.S. resumed air strikes in Iraq in August, and has
said it intends to bomb Islamic State positions in Syria. So
far, Britain has used military assets to assist with
humanitarian aid, reconnaissance and the delivery of arms and
ammunition to forces fighting the Islamist extremist group,
which has declared a caliphate in large areas it has seized in
Iraq and Syria.
Cameron has said nothing is ruled out, except deploying
British troops on the ground.
Cameron yesterday repeated the need to seek allies in the
Middle East. An early call for more aggressive action would risk
alienating voters in Scotland before the referendum. Scottish
nationalist leader Alex Salmond yesterday expressed his concern
about taking unilateral steps.
“There’s an urgent requirement to get back under
collective action through the United Nations,” Salmond, who
opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq because it was not approved by
the UN, said in a BBC television interview.
Cameron has pledged to consult lawmakers on any decision. A
recall of Parliament now would force lawmakers to abandon the
referendum campaign in Scotland in the critical final days.
Also hanging over any decision is the shadow of a
parliamentary defeat on authorizing action against Syria. In
August 2013, Cameron was forced to abandon plans for strikes
against the Syrian government over the use chemical weapons
after Tory rebels and the Labour opposition united to defeat
Still, momentum for participating in strikes against
Islamic State is building. The former head of the British army,
Richard Dannatt, yesterday said the killing of Haines should not
deter the government from action against the group.
“If we don’t confront and destroy these Islamic State
jihadist fighters, their influence will grow, their confidence
will grow, and the problem will get bigger,” he told sky News.
Former Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, speaking
yeesterday on BBC Radio 4, said while the case for the U.K.
joining air strikes would have to be put to Parliament,
lawmakers were “sympathetic and supportive.”
To contact the reporter on this story:
Andrew Atkinson in London at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Craig Stirling at