Europe ramps up response against IS after apparent execution
Europe's top powers Wednesday stepped up their response against Islamic State militants who claimed to have beheaded US journalist James Foley, as France warned the world faced the "most serious international situation" since 2001.
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday and rushed back to London, calling an urgent meeting to discuss how to deal with IS after the man filmed carrying out the apparent execution had a British accent, prompting speculation he is a UK national.
In a highly significant move, Germany said it was ready to send weapons to support Iraqi Kurds in their battle against IS, while France vowed to hold a conference on the security of the region and the battle against the "barbaric" militants.
After other European nations said they would arm Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, "we are ready to do the same," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters.
France has already said it will dispatch arms to Kurdish fighters but sending weapons is unusual for Germany, which often shies away from foreign military engagements and as a rule does not export arms into live conflict zones, given its past aggression in two world wars.
Germany said it would first send more humanitarian aid and non-lethal equipment such as helmets, night-vision goggles and explosives detectors while it checked what weapons shipments would make sense, in coordination with EU partners.
French President Francois Hollande stressed the gravity of the crisis in Iraq, telling Le Monde daily in an interview: "I think we are in the most serious international situation since 2001."
He said he would "soon propose to our partners a conference on security in Iraq and the fight against Islamic State."
"We need a global strategy against this group which is well-structured, which is well-financed and has very sophisticated weapons and which is threatening countries like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon," he added.
At an emergency meeting on Friday, EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to back the arming of the overwhelmed Iraqi Kurdish fighters in the face of the IS onslaught.
Britain, a leading player in the 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, has said it would "favourably consider" arming the Kurds if they received such a request.
- 'Barbaric' -
And global outrage mounted over the IS video posted online late Tuesday showing a masked militant beheading a man resembling the American journalist, who has been missing since he was seized in Syria in November 2012.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that if confirmed, "the disgusting assassination would show the true face of this 'Caliphate of Barbarism'."
"There can be no impunity for those that carried out these barbaric acts," added the minister in a statement.
Steinmeier also termed IS's onslaught as "barbaric" and described the suffering of the refugees fleeing their charge as "unimaginable."
And Cameron said: "If true, the murder of James Foley is shocking and depraved."
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond voiced his "absolute horror" at the apparent beheading which he said was "one more example in a catalogue of brutality" by what he described as an "evil organisation."
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the video depicted "the barbaric, truly merciless murder of a person."
"It shows that this terror group has nothing to offer but cruelty and fanaticism," Steffen Seibert said, adding that the chancellor was "horrified."
The White House has said that President Barack Obama has been briefed on the contents of the video, as pressure mounted on Washington to consider expanding its military campaign against the jihadists.
Obama has ordered air strikes on IS forces in a bid to defend the Kurdish regional capital Arbil and protect civilians, military action that has enabled Kurdish and Iraqi forces to push the extremists back and recapture a strategic dam.
© 2014 AFP