WASHINGTON _ President Obama on Wednesday called the videotaped beheading of New Hampshire war correspondent James W. Foley an “act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world” and pledged renewed determination to confront the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State that has seized parts of Iraq and Syria.
“Today the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley,” Obama said in a brief appearance in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he is currently in the second week of his summer vacation.
The president, who said he spoke to Foley’s family, lauded the photojournalist as a “man who lived his work, who courageously told the stories of his fellow human beings, who was liked and loved by his friends and family.”
“All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss,” added Obama, sounding somber and at times angry.
Obama, without outlining specific steps, pledged to keep up the pressure on the group in Iraq, which US military aircraft continued to strike from the air on Wednesday.
“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. When people harm Americans anywhere we do what is necessary to see that justice is done.”
The president’s remarks came after the video of Foley’s beheading, which came nearly two years after he was captured in Syria and was confirmed as authentic by US intelligence officials on Wednesday, raised new fears that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, and called ISIL by Obama administration officials) will expand its military offensive to attack American targets in retaliation for ongoing US airstrikes on its forces in Iraq.
Foley’s murder was being considered by US military and counterterrorism officials as a new sign of the group’s willingness to expand the conflict.
In the video posted to YouTube on Tuesday, Foley’s masked executioner, addressing Obama personally in British-accented English, threatened more bloodshed against Americans, including another captured American journalist, Steven J. Sotloff, who was also depicted in the video.
A newly published analysis by an international security consulting firm warned in the wake of the video that more attacks against Western interests should be expected.
“It appears that the Islamic State is not shying away from drawing the US into a confrontation,” said Zaineb Al-Assam, Middle East analyst for IHS Country Risk, calling it “increasingly likely that the group, or other independent groups acting in its name, will attempt attacks on US interests, including embassies in Tunisia and Egypt, which are more vulnerable given already active militant groups and their proximity to Libya, and in Yemen.”
Speaking on CNN, former CIA Director Michael Morrell called Foley’s killing a turning point in the conflict with the group, saying it was Islamic State’s “first terrorist attack against the United States.”
The developments were particularly troubling for Great Britain, which said it was investigating whether Foley’s executioner is a British national, fearing that some of the group’s followers could pose a direct threat to Europe.
“Our intelligence services will be looking very carefully on both sides of the Atlantic at this video to establish its authenticity, to try to identify the individual concerned, and then we will work together to try to locate him,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Sky News.
Obama, speaking on Martha’s Vineyard, said the journalist’s efforts to give a voice to the victims of the Syrian civil war stood is “stark contrast to his killers.”
“Let’s be clear about ISIL,” he said. “They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence,” subjecting victims to “torture and rape and slavery.”
“They have murdered muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.”
“ISIL speaks for no religion,” Obama added. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslims. And no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday or what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision.”
Foley’s killing raised the prospect that the US military, which has struck dozens of Islamic State targets in Iraq in recent weeks, could be drawn deeper into the conflicts in both Iraq and Syria, where the Obama administration has been reluctant to interfere in a civil war in which the militant group has joined other armed groups attempting to topple the dictatorship of Bashir al-Assad.
Indeed, calls grew Wednesday for a more aggressive approach to confronting the group.
Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the group “a profound threat to humanity.”
“We must get serious about confronting this force, including by aggressively arming those battling it,” he said.