A video and photo analyst from Leicester believes he has pinpointed the exact location of the beheading of journalist James Foley, based on exhaustive analysis of the background in the gruesome video posted by Islamic State jihadists.
Eliot Higgins, who recently successfully crowdfunded citizen and investigative journalism site Bellingcat, and came to prominence for his analysis of the Syrian chemical weapon attack, posted persuasive evidence on the site showing the location of the killing, near Raqqa in central northern Syria.
And he added that all evidence now points to the remaining hostages most likely being held in Raqqa.
Foley, who was captured more than two years ago, had long been believed to have been being held in Raqqa, an IS stronghold, before he was murdered, by a jhadist with a London accent. Raqqa is the declared capital of the so-called 'Caliphate' that the jihadists have claimed encompasses their territory in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Raqqa, Higgins pointed out on Bellingcat, is surrounded by green plains, but the area filmed by the jihadists is barren, with only a few weeds visible, and close to the top of a hill, with a small green plain barely seen in the distance.
The background in the video apparently depicting Foley's murder
Analysing satellite images of all rebel-held territory in Syria led Higgins to believe only one small area fitted the bill, the hills to the south of Raqqa. The claim is bolstered by the shadows in the video indicating it was filmed in the morning, with the camera pointing northwards toward the green plains of Raqqa.
Similar hills can be seen to the south of Raqqa
In the background of the video, a track can be seen that leads to a break in the rocks, to the left of where Foley kneels in the video, with another small break on the right. No major buildings or further tracks can be seen in the distance, but a distinctive row of trees can be seen.
The break in the rocks round the edge of the tracks
Another break in the rocks is seen to the right of the killer
Higgins obtained satellite images to compare the video with, and posted a photo where a similar looking track has a rock outcrop that would obscure a turn-off point, as it does in the video. He also pointed out a similar row of trees, a possible match to the road out to the north west.
All evidence seems to correspond to this point
The background matches that on the video
In the background of the Foley video, scant trees and then a greener plain can be seen in the far distance
"Having reviewed locations along the hills south of Raqqa this appears to be the only location which fits what little information is available in the video," Higgins posted.
"Along the hills this appears to be the most isolated spot with any sort of road access, with most other areas with road access appearing to have structures that would be visible in the video.
"Based on all available information we can say that at the very minimum the James Foley video was filmed in the hills south of Raqqa, and likely at the location shown above, supporting the claims made in the Guardian that Raqqa is the possible location of the remaining hostages."
The website was subject to a suspected cyber-attack in the 24 hours following Higgins' post, though the analyst said he had not confirmed if it was a deliberate attempt to take the website offline, or a problem with its hosting.
The analysis comes as experts said the British jihadi being blamed for beheading Foley may not have been directly responsible as the video could have been edited.
An expert in visual forensics, who was commissioned by The Times to examine the hideous footage, said he believed the it had been "staged" and "Jihadi John", as the Briton has been nicknamed, does not actually perform the execution on camera.
“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, told the paper (£).
“They show it’s an English guy because he is English-speaking for an English-speaking audience”.
He added: “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.”
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