President Barack Obama said a video showing the beheading of a second American journalist by Islamic State underscores the need for a global alliance to confront the extremist group.
The recording posted online yesterday shows the execution of captured freelance journalist Steven Joel Sotloff by the militant Sunni group that controls a swath of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. Journalist James Foley was beheaded in a video released last month.
“It’s not only that we’re going to be bringing to justice those that perpetrated this terrible crime against these fine young men,” Obama said today during a visit to Tallinn, Estonia. “The United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the barbaric” and “empty” vision of Islamic State, he said.
In the latest video, a masked fighter says, “I’m back, Obama. I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”
The recording, which Obama’s administration judged authentic, ends with another prisoner kneeling in an orange jumpsuit -- just as Sotloff was shown at the end of the recording on Foley’s killing. The captive in the new video is identified as David Cawthorne Haines, a British citizen.
U.S. lawmakers responded to the new video by urging Obama to step up his efforts to forge a coalition of nations to take on Islamic State. Some of them called for him to increase the limited U.S. airstrikes over Iraq and expand them into neighboring Syria.
“There is a growing awareness internationally that we have to form an unprecedented international program of cooperation,” Representative Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on a conference call with reporters yesterday.
Some Obama administration officials have said they and Obama are wary of expanding the direct U.S. military role. Doing so risks assisting the extremists’ efforts to portray the conflict as part of a centuries-old war against Islam by Christian crusaders and Jews, according to six officials who asked for anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, calling Sotloff’s murder “despicable and barbaric,” said yesterday that Islamic State terrorists “speak for no religion. They threaten Syrians, Iraqis, American and British people alike and make no distinction between Muslims, Christians or any other faith.”
Obama has said he is sending administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, to the Mideast to seek support from countries in the region.
In Tallinn, Obama said U.S. airstrikes have halted Islamic State advances in Iraq, while acknowledging that it will take time to “degrade and destroy” the militant movement. “This is not going to be a one-week or one-month or six-month proposition,” he said.
American intelligence agencies analyzed the new video and “reached the judgment that it is authentic,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said today in an e-mailed statement.
An international effort is required in part because “most of the suicide bombers and most of the most aggressive fighters” of Islamic State are “foreign fighters” that “come from all over the world,” Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, said yesterday in an interview on CNN.
While Islamic State is “extremely dangerous,” it “is not invincible,” Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said today at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
There’s “no credible evidence” that it is preparing an attack on the U.S. homeland, he said, and there are signs that U.S. airstrikes have begun to sap the group’s momentum in northern Iraq.
The masked executioner on the latest video, released by the SITE intelligence group, which tracks jihadist activity, appears to be the same U.K. citizen who was seen in the video of Foley’s beheading.
“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” the man in black says as he stands over Haines.
A U.S. official said Islamic State’s decision to release the video just as Americans returned to work after the Labor Day three-day weekend suggests its relative political sophistication and underscores that it has fighters from Western Europe and the U.S. who are familiar with work routines.
The official said that given Islamic State’s political acumen, the group probably doesn’t expect the murders of Foley and Sotloff and the threat against Haines to change U.S. or U.K. policy, and that the videos are partially intended to terrorize residents and leaders of Syria, Iraq and other predominantly Muslim nations that the group seeks to incorporate in its proclaimed caliphate.
Sotloff, who was from Miami, worked as a journalist in Libya and spoke fluent Arabic, according to a former colleague. He was kidnapped near Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 4, 2013. He had reported for publications including Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor.
“Being butchered in front of a camera simply for being a reporter is pure barbarism,” Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. The murders of Sotloff and Foley, 40, “are war crimes, and those who committed them must be brought to justice swiftly,” he said.
Sotloff’s relatives are “aware of the video and awaiting authentication,” Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the family, said in an e-mailed statement before the U.S. released its analysis of the recorded killing. “They are grieving privately.”
Nancy Gibbs, Time’s editor, said in a statement on the magazine’s website that Sotloff “gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world.”
While Obama has authorized limited airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq for humanitarian purposes and to protect U.S. personnel, he said last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to extend the fight into Syria. The U.S. backs what it calls moderate rebels seeking to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, even as Islamic State has made greater headway against Assad’s forces.
Obama said today the reference was to the possibility of military action in Syria that “might require congressional approval.”
“It is very important to me that when we send our pilots in to do a job that we know this is a mission that’s going to work” and that it has support, he said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that American airpower, employed “in coordination with reliable partners on the ground,” should be “aggressively pursued both in Syria and Iraq.”
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who’s also on the Armed Services panel, said he will introduce legislation leaving “no doubt” that Obama has authority to order airstrikes in Syria.
Royce said he will call Kerry before the Foreign Affairs committee this month to testify on efforts at “rolling back” Islamic State’s gains.
Some Democrats have joined Republicans in faulting Obama for failing to act more aggressively.
“I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious -- maybe in this instance too cautious,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the intelligence committee, said Aug. 31 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”