Islamic State insurgents posted a video on Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist, James Foley and images of another U.S. 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 spokeswoman, 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 U.S. 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 organisations.
The video injected an unpredictable element into Obama’s deliberations on how far to proceed with U.S. air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, though aides said his vow not to put U.S. 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 early August for the first time since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011.