US trying to verify video of American's killing

Washington - A video by Islamic State militants released on Tuesday purported to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley as retribution for US airstrikes in Iraq.

The White House, his family and employer said they could not determine the video's authenticity and were attempting to confirm if he had been killed.

Foley, a 40-year-old freelance journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing nearly two years ago in northern Syria while on assignment for Agence France-Press 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.

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 killed. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine.

President Barack Obama was briefed about the video on Air Force One as he flew from Washington to resume his vacation on the resort island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. A White House statement said Obama would continue to receive regular updates.

Increasing sophistication

White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the administration has seen the video and that the intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine if it is authentic.

"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," Hayden said in a statement.

Approached by an Associated Press reporter at her home, Foley's mother, Diane Foley, was red-eyed and gracious on Tuesday afternoon but said the family would not make an immediate statement. A priest arrived at the home several hours later.

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 US officials with direct knowledge of the situation said 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 authorised to discuss the hostage situation by name.

Since 8 August, the US 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 Internet video of the apparent beheading appears to show the increasing sophistication of the Islamic State group's media arm. It begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq.

Then it switches to a balding man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, a black-clad Islamic State fighter by his side. Foley's name appears in both English and Arabic graphics on screen. Foley went missing in Syria in November 2012.

The scene is captured on at least two video cameras, and has been edited in a professional style. The video appears to have been shot in an arid area; there is no vegetation in sight and the horizon is in the distance where the sand meets the gray-blue sky.

US involvement complicated

Officials from the State Department and Pentagon contacted social media sites on Tuesday to inform them of the video and ask them to remove it. Hayden said the administration asked the sites to "take appropriate action consistent with their stated usage policies".

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-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 executions - including mounting the decapitated heads of some of its victims on spikes.

Foley's purported beheading would mark the first time the Islamic State has killed an American citizen since the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011, upping the stakes in an increasingly chaotic and multilayered war.

If confirmed, the killing is likely to complicate US 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 Americans businessman Nicholas Berg in 2004.

In 2011, Foley was among a small group of journalists held captive for six weeks by the government in Libya and was released after receiving a one-year suspended sentence on charges of illegally entering the country.

In a May 2011 interview about his experience, he recounted watching a fellow journalist being killed in a fire fight and said he would regret that day for the rest of his life. At the time, Foley said he would "would love to go back" to Libya to report on the conflict and spoke of his enduring commitment to the profession of journalism.

"Journalism is journalism," Foley said during the AP interview, which was held in GlobalPost's office in Boston. "If I had a choice to do Nashua (New Hampshire) zoning meetings or give up journalism, I'll do it. I love writing and reporting."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimated on Tuesday that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria, and has not released their nationalities. In its annual report last November, CPJ concluded that the missing journalists are either being held and threatened with death by extremists, or taken captive by gangs seeking ransom.

The group's report described the widespread seizure of journalists as unprecedented and largely unreported by news organisations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help in the captives' release.

David Van Schalkwyk 2014-08-20 08:35:07 AM
It is an utter disgrace that a religious sect can kill innocent people in retaliation to the US bombing them... I personally hope that the Americans do not take this lying down and step up action in Iraq and totally wipe out the IS... The Muslim community around the world should stand up against the IS and other terrorist organizations that kill innocent people in the name of Islam, but we all know they wont because you will only hear their voice when the bombs land on their head and their innocent are taken... I ask any Muslim to answer one question, when last did you see an American soldier decapitate a Muslim because of their attacks on the US?
Sudesh Jagernath 2014-08-20 08:43:54 AM
Don't verify it. Take it for granted and smash them!!!
Riyaad Hendricks 2014-08-20 08:55:46 AM
Myself and allot of Muslims are against the extremists. Murder or any violent act is a stupid. These idiots are hiding behind religion, misconstruing it's teachings and warping it to suit their views to forward their own agenda. This happens in every religion and culture. Sadly, It's rife in the middle east because there's so many influences and allot of money at stake.
Enig Ma 2014-08-20 08:58:04 AM
Khalid bin Walid(ra) beheaded 70,000 Persian prisoners of war after the battle of Ullias, its 100% Islaam, in case a munafiq says it isn’t. — Abu Mansoor (@TaifaMansoora) August 19, 2014
Nigel van Ysendyk 2014-08-20 08:58:26 AM
ISL or IS or whatever they call themselves are an utter disgrace to human kind, it is sickening that these barbaric thugs are beheading people & spreading their hate filled brand of religion while the world just stands by & watches. Local muslims that were quick to condemn Israeli so called aggression (which In my opinion is more defence) have been very quiet on this topic, it would be encouraging to hear local muslims speaking out against the indiscriminate murdering of civilians by IS, & what about the rest of the world, not a word about this from China, Russia, usual they leave it up to others to support the persecuted.
I.j. Mthimunye 2014-08-20 09:02:14 AM
Its either oil or american people, but i know US will choose oil, IS weapons are from US whether taken from Syria rebels or Iraq soldiers. The world missed Gaddafi and Saddam.
Mohammad Sulaiman 2014-08-20 09:12:19 AM
I am a moderate Muslim (Sufi)and condemn IS unreservedly. I see that many people here are not aware that the diversity within Islam is bigger than the diversity within Christianity. The biggest targets of radical Islam is always the moderate Muslim. It hurts me double that you think that I am the same as this filth.
Raymond Kok 2014-08-20 09:40:21 AM
Binte Maya 2014-08-20 09:56:45 AM
Well said Mohammad! I too share the pain you feel..
Mohsin Essop 2014-08-20 09:59:49 AM
Even our priest in our mosque hav lashed out against these idiots al Qaeda Isis boko haram they jus a bunch of thugs!