Al-Qaida's North African cell said today that it had killed a British hostage whom it had been holding since January, in what Gordon Brown described as "a barbaric act of terrorism".
British officials said there was "no reason to doubt" the claim by the group, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), that it had killed Edwin Dyer, a 60-year-old British national who had lived most of his life in Austria and who had been travelling with other European holidaymakers in Mali when seized.
One British counter-terrorism expert said the AQIM statement confirmed independent intelligence on Dyer's murder. He pointed out the killing marked a sombre precedent – al-Qaida's first execution of a British citizen outside Iraq.
- AQIM said it killed Dyer on Sunday evening, after the expiry of a deadline it set for the release of Abu Qatada, a Jordanian cleric described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, who has been held in Britain since 2005.
- The Foreign Office said Britain's policy was not to make "substantive concessions" for the release of hostages.
- The prime minister informed MPs of the killing at the start of prime minister's questions today. "I, and the whole house, will utterly condemn this appalling and barbaric act of terrorism," Brown said. "I've talked to the president of Mali. He knows he will have every support in rooting out al-Qaida from his country. I want those who use terror against this country and British citizens to know beyond doubt that they will be hunted down and brought to justice."
A government official in Vienna said Dyer had moved to Austria in 1973, where he worked for a company manufacturing water pumps. "He was well respected in his community," the official said.
There was no confirmation tonight of reports that Dyer had been beheaded. The Foreign Office suggested those reports could have arisen from a passage from the Qur'an quoted in the AQIM statement that calls on the faithful to "smite infidels at the neck".
The AQIM statement also said: "The British captive was killed so that he, and with him the British state, may taste a tiny portion of what innocent Muslims taste every day at the hands of the Crusader and Jewish coalition to the east and to the west."
Dyer was seized on 22 January, with a Swiss couple and German couple, as the group was being driven in three cars from the Anderamboukane festival of nomadic culture in Mali towards the Niger border.
They were grabbed by Tuareg rebels who shot the tyres of their vehicles. A local cook, who had been part of the expedition, was subjected to a mock execution with a rifle fired inches from his head, and then released.
Werner Gartung, the chief executive of the German tour operator Oase Reisen, said: "The three cars were still in Mali, on the way back to Niger. They were arrested by Tuareg with automatic rifles who shot immediately into the tyres of the first car with the four clients. The second car with the three clients could turn and drive across the bush … three bullets did hit the car but nobody was hurt."