WASHINGTON - US 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, US intelligence officials confirmed the authenticity of the 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 extremist group, in releasing the video, said it had killed Foley in retaliation for US airstrikes targeting the group’s fighters in northern Iraq. The raids in recent days helped Kurdish and Iraqi fighters retake the key Mosul Dam from Islamic State control. In the hours after the video’s release, the US said it carried out nearly a dozen more airstrikes against fighters near the dam. The 40-year-old Foley disappeared on 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. It was not clear as of Wednesday where the execution took place.
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.” Foley, Obama 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. Its “ideology is bankrupt.” Obama called for “a common effort” — in Iraq, the Middle East region and the broader international community — to extract this cancer so it does not spread.”
US Congressman Adam Schiff, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the beheading “adds to the appalling parade of horrors” perpetrated by the Islamic state. He called it a “monstrous group that glories in death.”
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.’’
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 US 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 US 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 Obama.
According to Kurdish officers, another US air strike was carried out early Wednesday, targeting an apparent jihadist meeting at a school near the dam. Washington did not immediately confirm the raid.
France on Wednesday slammed the apparent killing as “a barbaric act that plays on fear,” while British premier David Cameron termed it “shocking and depraved” as he cut short a holiday.
Germany, denouncing the jihadists as “barbaric”, said it would send arms to Iraqi Kurdish forces battling them. The group, which led an offensive that has overrun large chunks of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, has declared a cross-border caliphate - a successor state to historic Muslim empires.