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Updated: Wed, 20 Aug 2014 13:47:43 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

James Foley killing: Obama vows 'relentless' response



President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the killing of journalist James Foley during a statement in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the killing of journalist James Foley during a statement in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

President Barack Obama addressed the U.S. public Wednesday about the killing of American journalist James Foley, vowing a "relentless" effort to stop ISIS.

In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria beheaded American journalist James Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage. 

 "Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the world," Obama said. "No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day."

Obama spoke in televised remarks from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he's vacationing with his family, a day after the militants released a video showing the U.S. journalist being beheaded.

The president said the group's victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith could justify its actions. "A group like [ISIS] has no place in the 21st century."

The U.S. military pressed ahead with its campaign, conducting nearly a dozen airstrikes in Iraq since Tuesday. The White House must now balance the risks of adopting an aggressive policy to destroy ISIS against resisting any action that could result in the death of another American.

Obama will also confront the potentially necessary step of pursuing ISIS in Syria, where the U.S. has resisted launching airstrikes or deploying significant American firepower. The president was scheduled to make a midday statement Wednesday about Foley's killing.

U.S. officials confirmed a grisly video released Tuesday showing ISIS militants beheading Foley. Separately, Foley's family confirmed his death in a statement posted on a Facebook page that was created to rally support for his release, saying they "have never been prouder of him."

"He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," said the statement, which was attributed to Foley's mother, Diane Foley. She implored the militants to spare the lives of other hostages. "Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."

Foley, 40, from Rochester, N.H., went missing in northern Syria in November 2012 while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. The car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a contested battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control. He had not been heard from since.

1st time ISIS killed U.S. citizen

The beheading marks the first time ISIS has killed an American citizen since the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011, upping the stakes in an increasingly chaotic and multilayered war. The killing is likely to complicate U.S. involvement in Iraq and the Obama administration's efforts to contain the group as it expands in both Iraq and Syria.

The group is the heir apparent of the militancy known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which beheaded many of its victims, including American businessman Nicholas Berg in 2004.

The video released on websites Tuesday appears to show the increasing sophistication of ISIS's media unit and begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes.

It then cuts to a balding man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, next to a black-clad militant with a knife to his throat. Foley's name appears in both English and Arabic graphics on screen. After the captive speaks, the masked man is shown apparently beginning to cut at his neck; the video fades to black before the beheading is completed. The next shot appears to show the captive lying dead. The video appears to have been shot in an arid area; there is no vegetation to be seen and the horizon is in the distance where the sand meets the grey-blue sky.

At the end of the video, a militant shows a second man, who was identified as another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, and warns that he could be the next captive killed. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013; he had freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the militant fighter shown in the film appears to be British. It was fresh evidence of the insurgents' increasingly sophisticated use of Western fighters to mobilize recruits and terrorize enemies.

The National Security Council issued a statement Wednesday confirming that the video was authentic, as Twitter and some other social media outlets tried to block its spread. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted that his company was "actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery." He gave a link to a story about Foley's killing.

ISIS recently threatened to kill Foley

Several senior U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the situation said ISIS very recently threatened to kill Foley to avenge the crushing airstrikes over the past two weeks against militants advancing on Mount Sinjar, the Mosul dam and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

Both areas are in northern Iraq, which has become a key front for ISIS as its fighters travel to and from Syria.

Since Aug. 8, there have been at least 77 U.S. airstrikes in Iraq on ISIS targets — including security checkpoints, vehicles and weapons caches. It's not clear how many militants have been killed in the strikes, although it's likely that some were.

Tuesday's airstrikes by American fighter jets and drones centred on targets around the Mosul Dam and were designed to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces create a buffer zone at the key facility, according to a U.S. official. The official was not authorized to discuss the ongoing operations publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

ISIS is so ruthless in its attacks against all people they consider heretics or infidels that it has been disowned by al-Qaeda's leaders. In seeking to impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in the lands it is trying to control, the extremists have slain soldiers and civilians alike in horrifying ways — including mounting the decapitated heads of some of its victims on spikes.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says that more than 80 journalists have been abducted in Syria, and estimates that around 20 are currently missing there. It has not released their nationalities. In its annual report in November, the committee described the widespread seizure of journalists as unprecedented and largely unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help in the captives' release.

Most of the kidnappings over the past two years have occurred in northern and eastern Syria, where a mix of mainstream rebel factions and jihadi groups hold sway. This year, several foreign journalists were released after lengthy terms in captivity, including three Spanish journalists in March and four French reporters a month later.

Jihadi factions, such as ISIS, are believed responsible for most of the abductions, but government-backed militias, criminal gangs and more moderate rebel factions also have been implicated. The motives range from ransom to prisoner exchanges.

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