By Victor Beattie – WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the Islamic State militants who beheaded an American journalist as a spreading “cancer” that must be eradicated.
“The whole world is appalled by the brutal murder of James Foley,” Obama said, speaking a day after the militants released a video of his execution. He also vowed the United States “will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.”
Earlier in the day, U.S. intelligence officials confirmed the authenticity of the grisly video, which shows the freelance journalist being put to death. It also showed a second hostage American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, and included militants’ threats to kill him.
The Sunni extremist group, in releasing the video, had claimed it had killed Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes targeting the group’s fighters in northern Iraq. It was not clear where the execution took place.
The 40-year-old journalist disappeared November 22, 2012, after being abducted in Syria by unidentified gunmen. He had reported in the Middle East for five years, for organizations including the GlobalPost, and previously had spent six weeks in captivity in Libya.
Obama, in a brief televised appearance from the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, said he had telephoned Foley’s family members in New Hampshire to say “we are all heart-broken at their loss.”
“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the world,” the president said.
Foley, Obama said said, “reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness” in his news accounts from the Middle East.
The Islamic State militants, Obama said, “have rampaged,” across swaths of Syria and Iraq. “They abduct women and children and subject them to rape and torture and slavery.”
The fighters have murdered people of all faiths, including Muslims. “ISIL speaks for no religion,” he said, using a common acronym for the group.
Family pays tribute to Foley
Foley’s family was among those paying tribute to the journalist’s courage in the face of dangerous assignments.
“He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people,” said a Facebook statement attributed to his mother Diane on Tuesday.
The Islamic State holds several more hostages, including three American nationals and at least two British nationals, as well as others, according to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London.
The Foley family, in its statement, implored the kidnappers to spare the lives of other hostages, including Sotloff: “Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.”
‘Message to America’
In a video posted by the Islamic State titled “Message to America,” Foley is shown wearing an orange outfit and kneeling in the desert as a masked man in black stands beside him holding a knife. Foley calls on his friends and loved ones to rise up against the U.S. government.
“My message to my beloved parents, save me some dignity and don’t accept any meager compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hit the last nail in my coffin with their recent aerial campaign in Iraq,” he says.
The man in black identifies the kneeling man as James Wright Foley and denounces the U.S. government for being “at the forefront of aggression toward the Islamic State.”
“You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military air force is attacking us daily. In Iraq, your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency. We are an Islamic army and state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims from all walks of life, who have accepted the caliphate as their leadership,” said the man.
Near the end of the nearly five-minute video, Sotloff is shown dressed in orange. It is then suggested that his fate rests with President Barack Obama.
Britain collaborating with US
Britain said it would work closely with the United States to identify the man shown in the video holding a knife, who appeared to have a British accent.
“Our intelligence services will be looking very carefully on both sides of the Atlantic at this video … to try to identify the individual concerned and then we will work together to try to locate him,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Sky news.
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut his vacation short to return to London, where a statement from his office said he will be consulting with ” the Foreign Secretary and senior officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office and the agencies to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by ISIL terrorists.”
More reaction on Foley
Marquette University, where Foley graduated in 1996, issued a statement saying was “deeply saddened” by Foley’s death. It said the history major “had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world.”
Foley, who had also been briefly held by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi during the 2011 uprising, had worked for AFP and the Boston-based online media outlet GlobalPost. His last dispatch from Syria for GlobalPost detailed the growing frustration with the war in Syria among Aleppo’s population.
Jonathan Adelman, associate professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, said the execution is a response by IS to its recent setbacks on the battlefield.
“To say that ‘OK, we’re not even going to concede that we can ever lose because we’re, quote, infallible, but we’re now going to go to the heart of the beast, we’re going to go straight at the president of the United States and say do you want us to slaughter this person?’ And, it is incredibly appalling in the 21st century that any nation, any people, would act like this,” said Adelman.
Adelman said such brutality and battlefield setbacks may prove to be the undoing of the IS militants as other Sunni militant groups pull their support away.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Foley’s execution, saying the “barbaric” murder sickens all decent people. It said Syria has become the most dangerous country in the world for journalists for the past two years, with at least 69 other journalists having been killed, more than 80 kidnapped and 20 others currently missing.
IS holds more hostages
Shiraz Maher, who’s at the Kings College center on radicalization, said the Islamic State “clearly holds a number of Westerners, but holds other people from other European countries.
“It’s not just journalists, it’s aid workers that they’ve captured. So it does have a number of people in this pool that they may use in the future.”
Maher said foreign and especially British jihadists fighting for the Islamic State have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities.
“Earlier this year, British foreign fighters were involved with the execution of prisoners of war, members of the Syrian army that they had captured. At the end of last year, we had British suicide bombers in Aleppo.”
Analysts say the Islamic State’s gruesome response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq is evidence that the U.S. intervention is hurting the militants.
VOA’s Henry Ridgwell contributed to this report from London and Luis Ramirez from the White House. Additional information was provided by Reuters.