The brutal jihadist group Islamic State on Tuesday claimed to have executed American journalist James Foley in revenge for U.S. airstrikes against its fighters in Iraq.
The Islamist radicals released a video showing a masked militant purportedly beheading the reporter, who has been missing since he was seized by armed men in Syria in November 2012.
"Find James Foley," the campaign run by his family to secure the 40-year-old freelancer's release, posted a public message online following the release of the video asking for time "to seek answers."
Foley was an experienced correspondent who had covered the war in Libya before heading to Syria to follow the revolt against Bashar Assad's regime for the Global Post, AFP, and other outlets.
According to witnesses, Foley was seized in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib on November 22, 2012. His family has not heard from him since, despite a public campaign for information.
In the five-minute video, distributed online by known Islamic State (ISIS) sources, the group declares that Foley was killed after President Barack Obama ordered airstrikes against Islamic State positions in northern Iraq.
In the video, the purported execution is carried out in an open desert area with no immediate signs as to whether it is in Iraq or Syria, by a black-clad masked militant who speaks in English with a British accent.
"We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIL," U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Tuesday in a statement, referring to the Islamic State, which has seized a swath of Iraq and Syria.
"The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity," Hayden said. "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."
The video shows a man it says is Foley reading a statement that blames Obama for airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq. At the end, after the man is beheaded, a second man, also identified as an American, is shown.
"The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision," the unnamed militant says.
Philip Balboni, GlobalPost CEO and co-founder, said the company had been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video to determine whether it was authentic. "We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family," he said.
Several senior U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the situation told the Associated Press that the Islamic State very recently threatened to kill Foley to avenge the crushing airstrikes over the last 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 the Islamic State as its fighters travel to and from Syria.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the hostage situation by name.
Since Aug. 8, the U.S. military has struck more than 70 Islamic State 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.
The Islamic State militant group is so ruthless in its attacks against all people they consider heretics or infidels that it has been disowned by al-Qaida'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 executions — including mounting the decapitated heads of some of its victims on spikes.
The group is the heir apparent of the militancy known as al-Qaida in Iraq, which beheaded many of its victims, including Americans businessman Nicholas Berg in 2004.
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