WASHINGTON / BAGHDAD / BEIRUT: The beheading of an American journalist by ISIS militants sparked worldwide revulsion Wednesday and drew pledges by outraged Western governments to aid those battling the jihadists.
In a video posted online late Tuesday, a masked militant with ISIS is shown beheading James Foley, who had been missing since he was seized in Syria in November 2012.
The video also contains a threat from ISIS to kill another reporter, said to be freelancer Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes in Iraq continue.
Washington confirmed there had been more airstrikes since the video’s release. U.S. officials said the 14 latest airstrikes were in the area of the Mosul Dam and were aimed at helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces create a buffer zone at the key facility. The strikes, which now total 84 since operations began, have helped Iraqi and Kurdish troops reclaim the dam from the insurgents.
The United States is also weighing sending up to 300 troops to Iraq to reinforce security at American diplomatic installations, a senior U.S. official said.
“We are considering sending fewer than 300,” the official said, adding that it was in response to a State Department request for additional security personnel.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the beheading “shocked the conscience of the entire world” and he vowed Washington would do what it must to protect its citizens.
“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world,” Obama said in brief comments to reporters in Edgartown, Massachusetts, where he has been vacationing. He said he had spoken with Foley’s family.
“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” Obama said. “When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”
British anti-terrorist police began an investigation of the video, in which Foley’s killer spoke with a London accent.
Apparently a British national, the killer could be just one of hundreds of European Muslims drawn to join ISIS and who authorities say pose a security threat to U.S. and European interests if they return home from the Middle East.
British Prime Minister David Cameron interrupted his holiday to return to London to lead the hunt to identify the killer.
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 ISIS.
President Francois Hollande called for an international conference to discuss how to tackle the group.
And Germany and Italy said they were ready to send arms to bolster the military capabilities of Iraqi Kurds fighting ISIS 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 II due to its Nazi past.
Foley, 40, was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, in northern Syria, according to GlobalPost, one of the outlets he had freelanced for. 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 Washington resumed airstrikes in Iraq this month for the first time since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011.
The words “Obama authorizes military operations against the Islamic State effectively placing America upon a slippery slope toward a new war front against Muslims” appeared in English and Arabic on the screen.
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 toward the Islamic State,” the latest official name of ISIS.
“Today your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties among 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 worldwide.”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.
On the ground in Syria, government troops battled to hold onto their last stronghold in the northern province of Raqqa, under fierce attack from ISIS fighters, an anti-regime monitoring group said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS fighters had been attacking Tabqa military airport for around 10 days, but the fighting overnight from Tuesday was the heaviest yet.
At least six jihadists have been killed in the fighting, which has involved medium and heavy weaponry as well as government air raids.
The air force carried out 15 raids Wednesday around Tabqa, sending hundreds of residents fleeing the area.
Also, Kuwait detained a prominent Sunni sheikh at the Gulf state’s airport after the U.S. included him on a sanctions list on suspicion that he is funneling money to militants in Iraq and Syria, a security source told Reuters.
Hajjaj al-Ajmi was detained at the airport on his arrival from Qatar.
The security source gave no further details about the detention and officials at Kuwait’s Interior Ministry were unavailable for comment.