This week, ISIL released a video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley. The executioner in the video has already been identified as a British ISIL leader, known only as "John" or "Jihadist John." Several of his past hostages recognized him from the video, and as lead hostage negotiator for ISIL's division in Syria, conducting negotiations online with families.
Though John wears black robes and covers his face in the video, his distinct accent, eyes, height, and hands are being used as clues to identify him. For example, from the video, experts determined he is left handed.
His accent is perhaps the most powerful clue. It has been narrowed down to an accent that was likely developed in the South East area of Greater London. Linguists determined he is likely under 30 based on his voice, and his youth was spent studying in Southern London. They believe he is educated to at least a completed high school level.
Experts will try to determine if he lived all of his life in Britain or moved around — that will be more of an art than a science, as experts can and have disagreed on the matter. A forensic voice expert told CNN that British intelligence authorities will now work to match his voice to existing recordings. With any luck, they will be able to narrow down his voice to between 200 and 300 matches.
The voice is also being used to try and determine John's ethnicity. Paul Kerswill, a linguistics expert at the University of York, told CNN, "It's quite hard to tell the ethnicity of this person from his voice alone. He's probably not British white. He could be of Pakistani origin; he could be of Somali origin; he could be South American origin or something. It's very, very hard to pinpoint."
You are no longer fighting an insurgency; we are an Islamic Army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide, so effectively, any aggression towards the Islamic State is an aggression towards Muslims from all walks of life who have accepted Islamic Caliphate as their leadership."
In order to best assist hostage Steven Sotloff, intelligence organizations will look to pinpoint the time and place of the recording to find out which devices were online. Weather patterns and shadows will help determine locations, however, an expert told Bloomberg News it may be easier to tell the time than the exact place because of the plain desert background of the video. That could also involve tapping into the massive database of NSA and GCHQ intercepts of electronic communications from the region.