BAGHDAD: Islamic State insurgents posted a video on Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of US journalist James Foley and images of another US journalist whose life they said depended on how the United States acts in Iraq.
The video, titled "A Message To America," presented President Barack Obama with bleak options that could define America’s next phase of involvement in Iraq and the public reaction to it, potentially deepening his hand in a conflict he built much of his presidency on ending.
Obama held back from making a public statement about the beheading until the video could be formally authenticated.
"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," White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
The video's grisly message was unambiguous, warning of greater retaliation to come against Americans following nearly two weeks of US air strikes 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.
Posted on social media, the video brought a chilling and highly personal tone to a conflict that for many Americans had started to become all too familiar.
Foley, 40, was kidnapped by armed men on November 22, 2012, in northern Syria while on his way to the Turkish border, according to GlobalPost, a Boston-based online publication where Foley had worked as a freelancer. He had reported in the Middle East for five years and had been kidnapped and released in Libya.
Steven 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.
The video injected an unpredictable element into Obama’s deliberations on how far to proceed with US air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, though aides said his vow not to put US combat forces on the ground in Iraq still held.
On a Facebook page for Foley, a message from his 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."
Islamic State had not previously executed American citizens publicly. The video was posted after the United States resumed air strikes in Iraq this month for the first time since the end of the US occupation in 2011.
Hostage crises have plagued US presidents over the years.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency sagged under the weight of the Iran hostage crisis when Americans were held captive for 444 days. Ronald Reagan’s bid to get American hostages freed from Lebanon led to an arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra scandal that plagued his second term.
University of Virginia political scholar Larry Sabato said the current situation was more akin to the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl by al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2002. He said it could help bolster what appeared to be a growing perception among Americans that the United States will have to be more aggressive in dealing with Islamic State militants.
A USA Today/Pew Research Center poll this week showed Americans by 44 percent to 41 percent saying Washington had a responsibility to "do something" about the violence, a shift from last month when 55 percent to 39 percent saw no US responsibility.
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