The BBC played into the hands of terrorists when it carried an interview with an Islamic State fanatic, it was claimed last night.
Newsnight broadcast the rants of the Briton who claimed to have joined IS fighters in murdering prisoners in Iraq.
He defended attacks on British soldiers and was given airtime to declare his hatred for the UK and threaten a bombing campaign here.
Armed: UK-born fanatic ‘Awlaki’, who claims to have joined IS fighters, told Newsnight that atrocities were allowed under Islam. He said he would only return to the UK to ‘plant a bomb’
Former security minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones said the interview should not have been aired.
‘We can perfectly well be informed about their views and attitudes without giving them access to mainstream media on a corporation that has a reputation to preserve,’ she added.
‘It gives them a degree of access and a status and an importance they should not be accorded.’
Tory MP Michael Ellis said: ‘This interview was unnecessary and gratuitous and gave free air time and the oxygen of publicity to vile views.’
Nigel Evans, a fellow Conservative, said: ‘Newsnight has done a great disservice by giving these insane terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Apart from brutal murders, it’s what they seek most.
‘They are playing into the hands of these terrorists by giving them the opportunity to speak directly to a small group of vulnerable people who may be seduced by their fundamentalist and extreme messages.’
The interview was broadcast on Wednesday night following news of the beheading of American journalist John Foley, apparently by a British national.
The report was introduced as an examination of the mindset that would lead a Briton to join Islamic State and kill in its name.
Former security minister Pauline Neville-Jones said the interview should not have been aired
Reporter Secunder Kermani said he had been ‘in correspondence’ with the British IS recruit over several months. The fanatic, who said he was a 27-year-old British Pakistani, called himself Awlaki – after Anwar al-Awlaki, the dead Al Qaeda preacher.
The BBC published pictures of him posing with his weapon.
Awlaki laughed when asked if reports of Islamic State fighters beheading their enemies was true. ‘Yeah we kind of beheaded some guys as well,’ he said.
‘I believe there was about maybe four, three or four guys that we beheaded.’
Awlaki claimed to have travelled to Syria to fight the Assad regime but then joined IS because it was ‘the only group fighting for the return of the caliphate’.
He said he had been shot and injured while fighting near Aleppo in northern Syria.
At one point Kermani asked what his response would be to US air strikes and Awlaki was allowed to rant in what even the interviewer admitted sounded like ‘pure propaganda’.
Awlaki said: ‘Bring your soldiers, your American soldiers, your British soldiers, bring them all to ISIS. We’ll send them back one by one in (sic) corpses. Also America doesn’t need to attack ISIS in Iraq for us to attack them back.’
He insisted atrocities committed against captured soldiers were ‘permissible’ under Islam ‘just as it is permissible for our brothers in the UK to execute British soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan’.
This was an apparent reference to the horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.
He said: ‘I hate the UK. The only reason why I would intend to return back to the UK is if I want to go plant a bomb somewhere.’
After playing one Awlaki rant, Kermani commented that despite his ‘angry and violent tone’ the fanatic was, in their exchanges, often ‘softly spoken’.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We have given great consideration to our reporting of the murder of James Foley and made it clear that these views would be intolerable to the majority.
‘We utterly refute any suggestion that Newsnight offered a platform for extremist views. We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on what is happening in Syria and Iraq, particularly with British citizens fighting there.
‘An interview with a British IS fighter offered insights into this crime. The interview was given context by our reporters and the subsequent discussion where contributors discussed the ‘barbaric behaviour’ of the group.’