A masked Islamic State militant holding a knife speaks next
to man purported to be U.S. journalist James Foley at an
unknown location in this still image from an undated video
posted on a social media website.
Islamic State insurgents have posted a video on
purportedly showing the beheading of US journalist James Foley
and images of another US journalist whose life they said
depended on how the United States acts in Iraq.
The video, titled "A Message To America," presented President
Barack Obama with bleak options that could define America's
next phase of involvement in Iraq and the public reaction to
it, potentially deepening his hand in a conflict he built
much of his presidency on ending.
Obama held back from making a public statement about the
beheading until the video could be formally authenticated.
"If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an
innocent American journalist and we express our deepest
condolences to his family and friends," White House National
Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a
The video's grisly message was unambiguous, warning of
greater retaliation to come against Americans following
nearly two weeks of US air strikes that have pounded militant
positions and halted the advance of Islamic State, which
until this month had captured a third of Iraq with little
Posted on social media, the video brought a chilling and
highly personal tone to a conflict that for many Americans
had started to become all too familiar.
Foley, 40, was kidnapped by armed men on November 22, 2012,
in northern Syria while on his way to the Turkish border,
according to GlobalPost, a Boston-based online publication
where Foley had worked as a freelancer.
He had reported in the Middle East for five years and had
been kidnapped and released in Libya.
Steven Sotloff, who appeared at the end of the video, went
missing in northern Syria while reporting in July 2013. He
has written for TIME among other news organisations.
The video injected an unpredictable element into Obama's
deliberations on how far to proceed with U.S. air strikes
against Islamic State targets in Iraq, though aides said his
vow not to put U.S. combat forces on the ground in Iraq still
On a Facebook page for Foley, a message from his mother Diane
Foley said: "We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He
gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of
the Syrian people.
"We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the
remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have
no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or
anywhere in the world."
Islamic State had not previously executed American citizens
publicly. The video was posted after the United States
resumed air strikes in Iraq this month for the first time
since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011.
Hostage crises have plagued U.S. presidents over the years.
Jimmy Carter's presidency sagged under the weight of the Iran
hostage crisis when Americans were held captive for 444 days.
Ronald Reagan's bid to get American hostages freed from
Lebanon led to an arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra scandal that
plagued his second term.
University of Virginia political scholar Larry Sabato said
the current situation was more akin to the beheading of
American journalist Daniel Pearl by al Qaeda leader Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed in 2002. He said it could help bolster what
appeared to be a growing perception among Americans that the
United States will have to be more aggressive in dealing with
Islamic State militants.
A USA Today/Pew Research Center poll this week showed
Americans by 44 percent to 41 percent saying Washington had a
responsibility to "do something" about the violence, a shift
from last month when 55 percent to 39 percent saw no U.S.
"WE ARE AN ISLAMIC ARMY"
The Sunni militant group, which has declared a caliphate in
parts of Iraq and Syria in areas it controls, opened the
video with a clip of Obama saying he had authorized strikes
The words "Obama authorizes military operations against the
Islamic State effectively placing America upon a slippery
slope towards a new war front against Muslims" appeared in
English and Arabic on the screen.
It showed black and white aerial footage of air strikes with
text saying "American aggression against the Islamic State".
A man identified as James Foley, his head shaven and dressed
in an orange outfit similar to uniforms worn by prisoners at
the US military detention camp in Guantánamo, Cuba, is seen
kneeling in the desert next to a man standing, holding a
knife and clad head to toe in black.
"I call on my friends, family and loved ones to rise up
against my real killers, the U.S. government, for what will
happen to me is only a result of their complacency and
criminality," the kneeling man says.
The man next to him, in a black mask, speaks in a British
accent and says, "This is James Wright Foley, an American
citizen, of your country. As a government, you have been at
the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State."
"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
a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims
Following his statement he beheads the kneeling man. At the
end of the video, words on the side of the screen say,
"Steven Joel Sotloff", as another prisoner in an orange
jumpsuit is shown on screen.
"The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your
next decision," the masked man says.
Syria has been the most dangerous country for journalists for
more than two years. At least 69 other journalists have been
killed covering the conflict there, including some who died
over the border in Lebanon and Turkey. More than 80
journalists have been kidnapped in Syria; with frequent
abductions, some of which go unpublicised, it is difficult to
know exactly how many.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that
approximately 20 journalists, both local and international,
are currently missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to
be held by Islamic State.
Islamic State also released a video on Tuesday that gave the
strongest indication yet it might try to strike American
targets. The video with the theme "breaking of the American
cross" boasts Islamic State will emerge victorious over
It followed a video posted on Monday, warning of attacks on
American targets if Washington strikes against its fighters
in Iraq and Syria.
Islamic State's sweep through northern Iraq, bringing it
close to Baghdad and in control of the second city, Mosul,
drew U.S. air strikes that helped Kurdish peshmerga fighters
regain some territory captured by the Sunni militants.
Earlier on Tuesday, Iraqi forces halted a short-lived
offensive on Tuesday to recapture Tikrit, home town of
executed dictator Saddam Hussein, due to fierce resistance
from Islamic State fighters.
Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam from the
militants after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units
backed by Shi'ite militias launched their offensive shortly
after dawn on Tikrit, a city 130 km (80 miles) north of
Baghdad which is a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority.
But officers in the Iraqi forces' operations room said by
mid-afternoon that the advance had stopped.
Islamic State has concentrated on taking territory for its
self-proclaimed caliphate both in Syria, where it is also
fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, and in
Coinciding with the Kurdish advances, Damascus government
forces have stepped up air strikes on Islamic State positions
in and around the city of Raqqa - its stronghold in eastern
Analysts believe Assad - who is firmly in control in the
capital more than three years into the civil war - is seizing
the moment to show his potential value to Western states that
backed the uprising against him but are now increasingly
concerned by the Islamic State threat.
Islamic State added new fighters in Syria at a record rate in
July, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,
which monitors the conflict. About 6,300 men - 80 percent of
them Syrian and the rest foreigners - joined last month, Rami
Abdelrahman, founder of the Observatory, told Reuters.