Cameron resists calls for air strikes despite hostage killing

Cameron resists calls for air strikes despite hostage killing

LONDON/EDINBURGH - Britain on Sunday resisted pressure to join the United States in announcing air strikes against Islamic State after the militant group beheaded David Haines, a British hostage.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of the government's emergency response committee in London, Prime Minister David Cameron said his government was battling IS on numerous fronts but was not, for now, launching air strikes.

"As this strategy intensifies we are ready to take whatever steps are necessary to deal with this threat and keep our country safe," he said in a TV statement from his office.

"Step by step, we must drive back, dismantle, and ultimately destroy ISIL (IS) and what it stands for. We will do so in a calm deliberate way, but with an iron determination."

Britain has in the past often been the first country to join US military action overseas, but war-weary public opinion, the parliament's rejection last year of air strikes on Syria, and sensitivities surrounding Scotland's independence referendum on Thursday mean Cameron is reticent this time round.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to discuss the aid worker's beheading with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at a meeting in Paris on Monday. "I am sure that will be a topic of discussion," one senior US State Department official said in Paris on condition of anonymity, referring to the murder.

Cameron outlined no plans to recall the parliament, which is in recess, in order to seek its authorisation for air strikes against IS, and people familiar with his thinking say he has no immediate plans to do so.

His last attempt to get the British parliament to back such air strikes, against Syria last year, failed to win the support of lawmakers.

Video footage of the murder of Haines by IS militants fighting in Iraq and Syria means Cameron, who is also trying to persuade Scotland to reject independence in Thursday's referendum, is under pressure to get much tougher with IS.

He has said he isn't ruling out any options to degrade IS, with the exception of putting boots on the ground, but is facing increasingly loud calls from some of his own Conservative lawmakers and from former military chiefs to join the United States in launching air strikes.

With Scotland his domestic priority, he is aware that many Scots have traditionally been more sceptical of British military action overseas and that proposing air strikes now could risk alienating them before the independence vote.

Cameron, who returned to London ahead of schedule on Saturday night to chair the emergency COBR meeting, called the murder of Haines, a 44 year-old Scottish aid worker, callous and brutal, hailing the murdered man as a "British hero".

"We will hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes," he said, calling IS "the embodiment of evil".

"They are not Muslims, they are monsters," he said.

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