US President Barack Obama delivers a statement from
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on the beheading of
American journalist James Foley. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The US military earlier this summer carried out an
attempt to rescue journalist James Foley and other American
hostages held in Syria, a US official says, in an operation
that the Pentagon said ultimately failed to find the captives.
Foley, 40, was beheaded by an Islamic State militant in a
video that surfaced on the Internet on Tuesday. President
Barack Obama expressed revulsion on Wednesday at the
execution and vowed the United States would do what it must
to protect its citizens.
The unsuccessful rescue operation "involved air and ground
components and was focused on a particular captor network
within ISIL," the Pentagon said in a statement, using a
different name for the militant group. "Unfortunately, the
mission was not successful because the hostages were not
present at the targeted location."
Officials would not say exactly when the operation took place
but said it was not in the last couple of weeks.
Obama authorized the mission "earlier this summer," Lisa
Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism aide, said in a separate
statement. "The President authorized action at this time
because it was the national security team's assessment that
these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL
custody," she said.
Islamic State said Foley's execution, which prompted
widespread horror that could push Western powers into further
action against the group, was in revenge for US airstrikes in
The Pentagon said US aircraft conducted 14 airstrikes in the
vicinity of Iraq's Mosul Dam, destroying or damaging
militants' Humvees, trucks and explosives.
Britain's prime minister cut short his vacation as UK
intelligence tried to identify Foley's killer, while France
called for international coordination against the Islamist
militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.
US officials said on Wednesday that intelligence analysts had
concluded that the Islamic State video, titled "A Message to
America," was authentic. It also showed images of another US
journalist, Steven Sotloff, whose fate the group said depends
on how the United States acts in Iraq.
The gruesome video presented Obama with bleak options that
could define American involvement in Iraq and the public
reaction to it, potentially dragging him further into a
conflict he built much of his presidency on ending.
Obama called the beheading of Foley "an act of violence that
shocked the conscience of the entire world" and said the
militants had killed innocent civilians, subjected women and
children to torture, rape and slavery and targeted Muslims,
Christians and religious minorities.
"So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are
overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to
massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did
yesterday and what they do every single day," Obama said in
brief comments to reporters in Edgartown, Massachusetts,
where he has been vacationing. He said he had spoken with
"ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their
ideology is bankrupt."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would
"never back down in the face of such evil.
"ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and
those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be
held accountable," Kerry said in a statement.
British anti-terrorist police began an investigation of the
video, in which Foley's killer spoke with a London accent.
Possibly a British national, the killer is just one of
hundreds of European Muslims drawn to join Islamic State, who
authorities say pose a security threat to US and European
interests if they return home from the Middle East.
The video showed a high level of technical proficiency and
the use of a British voice may have been intended to make its
contents clear to audiences in the United States, Islamic
State's declared enemy.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was not surprised to
hear the British accent and that large numbers of British
nationals were fighting in Iraq and Syria.
"Our intelligence services will be looking very carefully on
both sides of the Atlantic at this video to establish its
authenticity, to try to identify the individual concerned and
then we will work together to try to locate him," Hammond
told Sky news.
France said it wanted the permanent members of the U.N.
Security Council and regional countries, including Arab
states and Iran, to coordinate action against Islamic State.
President Francois Hollande called for an international
conference to discuss how to tackle the group.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned "the horrific
murder of journalist James Foley, an abominable crime that
underscores the campaign of terror the Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant continues to wage against the people of Iraq
and Syria," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari urged the world to
back his country against Islamic State, which he described as
a threat to the world, not just to the minority ethnic groups
whose members it has killed in Iraq.
Germany and Italy said they were ready to send arms to
bolster the military capabilities of Iraqi Kurds fighting
Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Sending arms into conflict zones is a major departure for
Germany, which has often shied away from direct involvement
in military conflicts since World War Two due to its Nazi
The video's message was unambiguous, warning of greater
retaliation to come against Americans following nearly two
weeks of US airstrikes that have pounded militant positions
and halted the advance of Islamic State, which until this
month had captured a third of Iraq with little resistance.
Foley was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, in northern Syria,
according to GlobalPost. He had earlier been kidnapped and
released in Libya.
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 organizations.
On Facebook, Foley's 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."
The video was posted after the United States resumed
airstrikes in Iraq this month for the first time since the
end of the US occupation in 2011.
US Senator John McCain, a Republican, said Foley's death
should serve as a turning point for Obama in his
deliberations over how to deal with Islamic State. "First of
all, you've got to dramatically increase the airstrikes. And
those air strikes have to be devoted to Syria as well,"
McCain said in a telephone interview.
Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in the parts of
Iraq and Syria it controls, opened the video with a clip of
Obama saying he had authorized strikes in Iraq.
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 airstrikes with
text saying: "American aggression against the Islamic State."
A man identified as Foley, head shaven and dressed in an
orange outfit similar to uniforms worn by prisoners at the US
detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, is seen kneeling in the
desert next to a man holding a knife and clad head to toe in
"I call on my friends, family and loved ones to rise up
against my real killers, the US 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 with 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
University of Virginia political scholar Larry Sabato said
the killing was like the beheading of American journalist
Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. He said it could help
bolster a perception among Americans that the United States
will have to be more aggressive in dealing with Islamic State
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 and more than 80
journalists have been kidnapped in Syria.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that
about 20 journalists are currently missing in Syria. Many of
them are believed to be held by Islamic State.