Beirut/Paris (dpa) – An Algerian affiliate of the Islamic State group beheaded a French hostage Wednesday, the most dramatic reaction so far to the start of US-led airstrikes this week that have shown some sign of destabilising the group’s foothold in Syria.
A video released by the Algerian group, entitled “Message of blood for the French government”, opened with a clip of President Francois Hollande announcing the start of airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq last week.
It then cut to an image of Herve Gourdel, 55, a mountain guide and photographer, on his knees surrounded by four armed captors. After a declaration in Arabic is read, he is pushed to the ground and executed.
The group, which styles itself Jund al-Khalifa (The Caliph’s Soldiers), had threatened in a video Monday to kill Gourdel within 24 hours unless France ended its strikes against Islamic State.
The announcement came as French lawmakers debated the intervention in parliament.
Image grab from a video released by Jund al-Khilafah, an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS), on September 23 purportedly shows French tourist from Nice, Pierre Gourdel Herve (R), looking on as an alleged masked and armed captor reads from a paper, in an unknown location in Algeria – EPA
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who had told the assembly earlier that France would keep up airstrikes against the Islamic State until the Iraqi army could overpower the insurgents, could not immediately confirm Gourdel’s execution.
President Francois Hollande was to address reporters later on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, said that the Ahrar al-Sham rebel group had issued instructions to its fighters to: Evacuate their bases; use communications equipment only when necessary; and hide or move heavy weapons.
Ahrar al-Sham, which lost most of its top leadership in an explosion two weeks ago, is one of Syria’s largest rebel groups and a key member of the Islamic Front rebel alliance.
It combines hardline Islamist ideology with a pragmatic political strategy, analysts say. But one of its leading members, Abu Khaled al-Suri, who was killed in a February bombing that the group blamed on the Islamic State, was known to have been an al-Qaeda veteran and an associate of Osama bin Laden.
The Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front, which was hit in Tuesday’s initial round of airstrikes, was taking similar steps, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Wednesday saw further reported airstrikes, with the Observatory saying that warplanes flying from Turkey bombed Islamic State targets around the besieged Kurdish town of Kobane on the Syrian border.
But Turkey’s Anadolu news agency cited sources in the prime minister’s office as saying the country’s airspace was not used for attacks on Syria.
The Observatory reported that the jihadists had pressed on in their offensive and were only 10 kilometres south of Kobane amid heavy clashes.
The al-Qaeda splinter group has seized dozens of mostly Kurdish villages near Kobane in the past week, prompting a massive exodus into Turkey. The UN has warned that up to 400,000 in total could flee if the whole area falls to the jihadists.
Syrian Kurdish leader Saleh Mislim has welcomed the air raids, while calling for coordination between American and Kurdish forces. But other Syrian groups deemed less radical by Western powers reacted angrily to the airstrikes, noting that the attacks on the al-Nusra front also reportedly killed up to 11 civilians.