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James Foley killing and broadcast by hunted 'British' jihadi spurs MPs to seek wider campaign against UK extremist groups'

By Nicholas Watt, Richard Norton-Taylor and Josh Halliday

Guardian Online – 21 August 2014

The UK government was under pressure to rethink its approach to tackling domestic extremism as security services, led by MI5, intensified the search for a masked jihadi, suspected of being a British citizen, who is believed to have beheaded US journalist James Foley in Syria. As Foley's employers revealed that the terror group Islamic State (Isis) demanded a ransom of $132m (£80m), MPs on both sides of the House of Commons called for a step-change in the fight against extremist groups amid fears that up to 300 British citizens are fighting with Isis.

… The race to identify the jihadi in the video came as the government faced growing pressure to change tack in the fight against extremism in Britain on a series of fronts. Julian Lewis, a member of parliament's intelligence and security committee (ISC), which is due to publish a report into the murder of the British soldier Lee Rigby in the autumn, called for the government's anti-extremism strategy to be widened beyond confronting advocates of extremist violence to tackling promoters of extremist ideology.

In an echo of Michael Gove's call for a "draining of the swamp", Lewis told the Guardian:

"If we try to be neutral between the arsonist and the fire brigade then we run into problems. We were not neutral in this country between Nazi doctrine and democracy or between Communist doctrine and democracy. We should not be neutral between Islamist totalitarianism and democracy."

Lewis declined to comment on the ISC report into the murder of Rigby, in line with the committee's procedures.

In a sign of growing concerns about the challenge of monitoring terror suspects, the former Middle East minister Alistair Burt led a cross-party call for a debate about reintroducing control orders which were criticised for allowing indefinite house arrest. Burt, who was a minister when the Control Orders were scrapped in 2011 and replaced with terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs), told the Guardian:

"If the authorities believe someone to be dangerous – what sort of monitoring is possible of that individual? That raises the issue of Control Orders coming back onto the agenda again. It is time to revisit Control Orders. These were cancelled when we came into office. But circumstances have changed."

The debate about the battle against domestic extremists will be thrown into sharp relief in the autumn when parliament's security and intelligence committee publishes its report into the killing of Rigby who was murdered in a similarly brutal fashion to Foley in Woolwich, south-east London. The report will confirm that Rigby's murderers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were known to MI5. The report is not expected to criticise MI5 for failing to recognise the threat they posed. It is instead expected to say that a debate needs to be held about whether the intelligence agencies need to reinforce their powers of surveillance, reviving the issues highlighted by Edward Snowden in his NSA leaks.

One figure with knowledge of the work of the intelligence agencies suggested it was highly likely that they knew about "John" and the two British guards of hostages in Syria who were dubbed by their captive John, Paul and Ringo after the Beatles. "I am willing to pay money that the services knew one or all of them," the source said.

Britain's three intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and the government's electronic eavesdropping centre, GCHQ – were working together to try to identify the jihadi. MI5 officers were combing their databases to check on movements or associations and former friends which could point to the killer, and to his home address. Though the hunt is being led by MI5, GCHQ is using all the voice-recognition technology at its disposal, to try to identify the man who recorded a video showing Foley's decapitation. Counter-terrorism police are understood to be concentrating on local intelligence, hoping to get information from the Muslim and Asian communities. "All security agencies are involved using a variety of means in joint teams", said a source familiar with the operation.

Some 500 Britons are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq and joined Islamist groups fighting there. Some 200 are estimated to have returned to the UK …