NB: Please bear in mind I do not endorse the main argument here. I prefer not to speculate as I am no expert in forensics. I was merely asked to comment on the significance of the featuring of a British English-speaker to announce the execution.
The video of a British jihadist beheading an American hostage was probably staged, with the actual murder taking place off-camera, according to forensic analysis.
Footage of James Foley's death at the hands of a man with a London accent provided a powerful propaganda tool for Islamic State — formerly Isis — when it was uploaded on to the internet and broadcast around the world last week.
Now it has emerged that the Briton might be a frontman and not the killer. His identity has almost certainly been established by the security services, but they have yet to act for fear of endangering the lives of 20 western hostages still being held.
A study of the four-minute 40-second clip, carried out by an international forensic science company which has worked for police forces across Britain, raises a number of questions about what really happened on a patch of desert land, thought to be somewhere in northern Syria.
No one is questioning that the photojournalist was beheaded, but camera trickery and slick post-production techniques appear to have been used.
"I think it has been staged," said one expert in visual forensics, after he was commissioned by The Times to examine the footage. "My feeling is that the execution may have happened after the camera was stopped."
Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum think-tank, suggested that "they show it's an English guy because he is English-speaking for an English-speaking audience".
He said: "It sends a message to both the UK and the US who are intervening at this stage in some way in the conflict. I think it sends a powerful message that it doesn't matter where you are from, your allegiance is with the Islamic State and one day the Islamic State will encompass the entire world in terms of their thinking."
He added: "Islamic State really revel in beheading. They have definitely improved the production quality of their videos over the past couple of years."
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