- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

As President Obama considers airstrikes in Syria against terrorists of the Islamic State, the British government issued an urgent appeal to the public Tuesday to help police identify “aspiring terrorists” who may be preparing to strike the West.

“They may be about to travel abroad, have just returned or be showing signs of becoming radicalized,” said Mark Rowley, a top British counterterrorism official.  “We appeal to the public to help identify for us aspiring terrorists. High priority operations, especially against those involved in attack planning or on the cusp have increased greatly.”

The White House would not comment Tuesday on reports that the U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria with President Obama’s go ahead, a move that will identify potential targets if airstrikes against Islamic State militants are approved.

The U.S. and allies are increasing concerned about Westerners who have joined the Islamic State and hold passports that would allow them to travel to Europe or the U.S. to carry out terrorist attacks. A British man who joined the Islamic State is believed to be the person who murdered journalist James Foley last week in a beheading captured on video.

“Every reasonable person in the country has been touched by the pitiless murder of James Foley at the hands of Islamic State terrorists, and the murderer’s apparent British nationality has focused attention on extremism in the UK as well as the Middle East,” Mr. Rowley said. “The ongoing commitment to fight this threat has seen a significant rise in the number of Syria related arrests.”

A White House spokesman reiterated Tuesday that Mr. Obama has not decided whether to launch airstrikes against targets in Syria, following a three-week-old air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

White House press secretary Joshua Earnest said the airstrikes in Iraq are not based on congressional approval, and he said the administration has not “speculated” about whether approval would be required for strikes in Syria.

A Syrian official said Monday that Damascus would consider U.S. airstrikes an act of “aggression” if Washington did not first consult with the Syrian government.

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