From The Guardian (source link): “The foreign secretary said on Monday that the intelligence services do not know where Alan Henning is being held hostage by Islamist militants, making a rescue mission to save his life by special forces impossible.
The candid remarks by Philip Hammond come as Britain’s intelligence services are believed to be trying to locate Henning, whom Islamic State (Isis) are threatening to murder.
Hammond, speaking in Paris, said: “We don’t know where he is. Obviously, if we knew where he was, we would be able to look at all sorts of options but we don’t know where he is.
“We have considered every possible option to support these kidnap victims – both British and others – and if we knew where they were, it would be a different story.”
Hammond said officials had explained to Henning’s family the limited options open to the UK government, whose policy is not to pay ransoms: “They understand, because we have explained to them in detail, the limitations of our abilities. We are dealing with a very barbaric organisation whose values are completely different from ours.”
Analysts said the admission by Hammond may also mean that intelligence services do not know the location of the masked man with a British accent who has fronted the videos showing the beheading of two American journalists and of British aid worker David Haines, which was released on Saturday.
On Monday, Haines’s teenage daughter, Bethany, posted a Facebook message saying she had been touched by the support she had received. She wrote: “Hi, I’m David’s daughter who lives in Perth I was really touched by the messages of support during this hard time I know my dad would be really touched and grateful.”
Michael Scheuer, whose service with the CIA saw him lead its Osama bin Laden unit and serve with its directorate of intelligence and directorate of operations, said the British-speaking militant responsible for Haines’s death was likely to be close to the hostages.
Scheuer said: “If they are going to use him as a prop, if the hostages are still alive, he probably will be close by for when they next want to kill somebody. My guess is they don’t know where ‘Jihadi John’ is, or the other hostage takers.”
British officials have said they were making progress on identifying the masked militant with the London accent seen in the last three videos.
The hunt to locate Henning, and to track down his captors, is being led by the UK’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, with GCHQ, the UK’s centre for eavesdropping on electronic communications, assisting. Western human intelligence assets on the ground near Raqqa in Syria, where the hostages may be being held, are sparse.
A previous US attempt to rescue hostages led to a raid which failed to locate the captives. It came about from details provided by hostages whom Isis had released after ransoms were paid, and this fact became public.
Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said: “Hostage rescue, deep in enemy-held territory, is very difficult. This is needle in a haystack stuff.”
Scheuer said the Isis hostage takers had proved themselves to be disciplined in not providing electronic clues that US and UK intelligence could use to identify where the captives are being held.
In the UK, counter-terrorism investigators are trying to locate associates of the militant with the British accent, and Scheuer believes they are likely to know his identity. But, Scheuer pointed out that in recent times those behind public beheadings have rarely been captured and brought to justice.”
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