The Foreign Secretary has warned about the threat of Brits becoming involved in IS. Photo: Getty
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Foreign Secretary: British nationals involved in IS atrocities

Philip Hammond says the UK is “very much aware” of Brits becoming involved in the Islamic State militant group.

Following the shocking, though yet unverified, footage showing the US journalist James Foley being beheaded by a masked militant who identifies himself as an Islamic State (IS) member, in an apparently British accent, the Foreign Secretary has voiced the UK’s condemnation.

Most striking about Philip Hammond’s comments to the BBC this morning about the video was his warning that British nationals are becoming involved with Jihadists in the killing in Iraq, commenting that there is a “significant number of British nationals” in Syria, and increasingly, in Iraq.

He said the UK is “very much aware” of the threat of Brits becoming involved in the IS extremist group, and acknowledged that “on the face of it”, it appears that the masked man in the horrific video is British, because of his accent – though further analysis of the footage is necessary.

Hammond revealed that UK security authorities knew there were some British citizens who have become complicit in “terrible crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities, making Jihad with ISIL and other extremist organisations”.

He added: “This is something we have been tracking and dealing with for many many months and I don't think this video changes anything.

“It just heightens awareness of a situation which is very grave and which we've been working on for many months.”

Hammond also warned that the apparent involvement of British citizens is one of the reasons that the militant group operating in Iraq poses “such a direct threat” to the UK. “Many of these people may seek at some point to return to the UK and they would then pose a direct threat to our domestic security.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Why the Labour rebels have delayed their leadership challenge

MPs hope that Jeremy Corbyn may yet resign, while Owen Smith is competing with Angela Eagle to be the candidate.

The Eagle has hovered but not yet landed. Yesterday evening Angela Eagle's team briefed that she would launch her leadership challenge at 3pm today. A senior MP told me: "the overwhelming view of the PLP is that she is the one to unite Labour." But by this lunchtime it had become clear that Eagle wouldn't declare today.

The delay is partly due to the hope that Jeremy Corbyn may yet be persuaded to resign. Four members of his shadow cabinet - Clive Lewis, Rachel Maskell, Cat Smith and Andy McDonald - were said by sources to want the Labour leader to stand down. When they denied that this was the case, I was told: "Then they're lying to their colleagues". There is also increasing speculation that Corbyn has come close to departing. "JC was five minutes away from resigning yesterday," an insider said. "But Seumas [Milne] torpedoed the discussions he was having with Tom Watson." 

Some speak of a potential deal under which Corbyn would resign in return for a guarantee that an ally, such as John McDonnell or Lewis, would make the ballot. But others say there is not now, never has there ever been, any prospect of Corbyn departing. "The obligation he feels to his supporters is what sustains him," a senior ally told me. Corbyn's supporters, who are confident they can win a new leadership contest, were cheered by Eagle's delay. "The fact even Angela isn't sure she should be leader is telling, JC hasn't wavered once," a source said. But her supporters say she is merely waiting for him to "do the decent thing". 

Another reason for the postponement is a rival bid by Owen Smith. Like Eagle, the former shadow work and pensions secrtary is said to have collected the 51 MP/MEP nominations required to stand. Smith, who first revealed his leadership ambitions to me in an interview in January, is regarded by some as the stronger candidate. His supporters fear that Eagle's votes in favour of the Iraq war and Syria air strikes (which Smith opposed) would be fatal to her bid. 

On one point Labour MPs are agreed: there must be just one "unity candidate". But after today's delay, a challenger may not be agreed until Monday. In the meantime, the rebels' faint hope that Corbyn may depart endures. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.