Radical Sunni terrorists with the Islamic State posted a video Tuesday purporting to show them beheading missing American photojournalist James Foley in what could be an escalation of the terrorist group’s activities targeting the U.S.
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Foley’s family confirmed that he is the man being killed in the video.
Much of the video, which was posted to YouTube briefly Tuesday afternoon, consists of Mr. Foley in an orange jumpsuit next to a black-clad jihadist railing in English against the U.S. and President Obama’s foreign policy, including the airstrikes Mr. Obama ordered against the Islamic State earlier this month.
“Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims of living in safety under Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” the jihadist says in a thick British accent.
The video then shows the jihadist taking a knife and starting to cut at Mr. Foley’s throat as the image fades to black. It then shows a headless body with a severed head resting on the torso. The video was quickly taken down by YouTube, but images of the killing quickly spread across social media.
Mr. Foley’s mother Diane issued a statement on Facebook speaking of her son in the past tense and saying he “gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
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“We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim,” Mrs. Foley said in the statement that also asked the kidnappers to free their other hostages.
Speaking before the family’s confirmation, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said if the video is genuine, “we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist, and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Just before he is killed, an obviously coerced Mr. Foley says his death is the fault of the U.S. government and calls on his friends and family to “rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government.”
Mr. Foley, a 40-year-old freelance journalist from New Hampshire, had been missing since 2012, when he went to Syria on behalf of GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse to cover the civil war between Islamist insurgents, who formed the core of what would become the Islamic State, and the regime of Bashar Assad.
The terrorist group’s video also said that Steven Joel Sotloff, a journalist who worked for Time, would be executed next unless the U.S. ceases its military operations in the region. He is seen at the very end of the video in a similar orange outfit with a black-clad Islamic State fighter standing over him.
“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the jihadist says.
Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement that the death of Mr. Foley “adds to the appalling parade of horrors” perpetuated by the Islamic State.
“Seldom is the descriptor ‘evil’ applied with perfect accuracy as it is with this monstrous group that glories in death,” said Mr. Schiff, who also is chairman of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. “They know no human decency — murdering journalists, beheading religious minorities refusing to convert, victimizing women and children and starving entire communities.”
James Carafano, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, said the video fit a pattern of the Islamic State doing things to show they are still relevant, such as declaring the caliphate in the first place.
It’s “a very provocative way of showing that you are still a force to be reckoned with” and not just “a bunch of losers,” he said. “In this part of the world, honor is power. It’s not about doing the right thing. [Honor] is as important to them as martyrdom.”
He told The Washington Times in an interview that the Islamic State probably figures correctly that the U.S. already “has been droning and bombing” them but will not send in ground troops no matter what.
“So, from their perspective, what have they got to lose” by killing an American, he said.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants clashed on the outskirts of Tikrit, the birthplace and clan home of former dictator Saddam Hussein, multiple sources told The Associated Press. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi army spokesman, told AP in Baghdad on Tuesday that a “slow and gradual” push to retake areas around Tikrit is under way, an effort he described as “biting back the land.”
The push by the Iraqi army occurred a day after the central government’s forces, with the aid of Kurdish troops and U.S. airstrikes, took back the key Mosul Dam from the Islamic State.
Also Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it would begin Wednesday a multipronged operation to aid the half-million refugees created by the Islamic State’s advance, starting with a four-day airlift to the Kurdish regions of the northeast using Jordan-based Boeing 747s.
“Many are still coming to grips with the tragedy they’ve been through in recent weeks, fleeing homes with nothing, and many trying to cope with the loss of loved ones,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for UNHCR, said in a statement. “Emergency support is an urgent need that we are trying to meet.”
The Foley video should be a wake-up call for Washington, as it offers a chilling glimpse at a future where a terrorist group with no rules or boundaries can threaten Americans everywhere, according to Oubai Shahbandar, the political and strategic communications adviser to the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.
“What happened is pretty horrific and indicative of just how much of a threat [the Islamic State] is to the whole world,” he said. “This is a threat that can’t be contained and has to be destroyed. This is a threat that goes beyond Iraq.”
Now, more than ever, U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq are absolutely necessary, according to Mr. Shahbandar.
The Syrian opposition leadership and the Free Syrian Army have previously made it clear to the U.S. government that they “are ready and willing to work with the United States to defeat” the threat posed by the Islamic State, Mr. Shahbandar said.
The Syrian opposition leadership made the trek to Washington, D.C., in May. The group met with President Obama and senior Pentagon officials and gave them “a very clear message” that the opposition was ready to partner up to defeat the common enemy.
“The United States does have a willing and capable partner on the ground to fight [the Islamic State], to fight the same group that killed James Foley and is going to kill thousands more in the future and kill even more Americans if it is not stopped today in Syria,” he said.
⦁ Maggie Ybarra, Dave Boyer and Phillip Swarts contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports from Baghdad.