British intelligence said a London rapper who traveled to Syria last year to fight with Islamist militants is suspected of beheading American journalist James Foley last week, according to the British newspaper The Sunday Times.
Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said U.S. intelligence officials have yet to confirm the killer's identity on the video showing the killing and continue to work the case.
"We're not in a position to say exactly who the man in the video is yet, but we are actively working with our British counterparts to determine that every day," Harf said. "There are a variety of ways to do this, and we're putting the full force of our resources behind that effort now."
British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 identified the killer and named Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 24, as a key suspect, The Sunday Times reported, citing unnamed officials. Abdel Bary, also known as L Jinny or Lyricist Jinn in London, left a budding music career that included appearances on BBC Radio in 2012, several British newspapers reported.
British intelligence is using voice recognition technology to identify the man in the video who stood over Foley and spoke in a distinct London accent, Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to Washington, told CNN. Westmacott said the suspected British national and other Westerners fighting with the Islamic State militant group represent a growing danger if such jihadists return from the front and engage in terrorism.
The suspect's father, Adel Abdul Bary, was extradited in 2012 from the United Kingdom to the United States to face charges that he participated in al-Qaeda's 1998 attacks on two U.S. embassies in east Africa. The elder Bary had spent years in Egyptian prisons and was allowed to enter Britain as a political refugee. He was considered one of Osama bin Laden's closest lieutenants, TheGuardian newspaper reported. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in November in federal court in Manhattan. One of his two co-defendants, Abu Anas al-Libi, was seized in October by U.S. special operations forces outside his home in Tripoli, Libya.
The younger Bary caused a stir earlier this year after he posted a photo of himself in Syria holding aloft a severed head, according to The Independent.
In last week's video, Foley's killer said the Islamic State was killing the journalist, who was abducted two years ago in Syria, to punish the U.S. for airstrikes targeting the militant group in Iraq. He said a similar fate awaits Steven Joel Sotloff, a photojournalist and former University of Central Florida student who is also being held, if the U.S. strikes continue.
On Sunday, another kidnapped American journalist was released. Peter Theo Curtis, 45, who writes under the name Theo Padnos, had been held by the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria.
The British newspapers document the change in Abdel Bary's lyrics, from discussing drug use, violence and worries about deportation to Egypt, to anger at peers who go clubbing and at authorities for arresting his father.
Early songs from 2012 apparently refer to marijuana — "roll up and watch the leaves ignite" — and to making ends meet while dealing with a troubled past, according toThe Independent.
"It's hard to progress in the future with a damaged past, but still I try to count my blessings and I thank Allah," he rapped in 2012. "I'm trying to change my ways, but there's blood on my hands and I can't change my ways until there's funds in the bank."
In his most recent rap, posted to YouTube in March, he talks of killing police.
"Give me the pride and the honor like my father, I swear the day they came and took my dad, I could have killed a cop or two," Bary said. "Violate my brothers and I'm filling you with lead."
The man in the beheading video is one of hundreds of militants from the U.K. and other Western nations prepared to kill and die for the radical Islamic State group that has conquered much of Iraq and Syria and is battling with both country's governments while imposing draconian and brutal rule in the territory they control.
About 500 British citizens are believed to have traveled to fight with the radical religious group in Syria and Iraq, and many others have traveled from other countries, said Mia Bloom, an expert on suicide terrorism at University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
All Western countries are worried about these people coming home, Bloom said.