Islamic State insurgents released a video Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria nearly two years ago, and images of another U.S. journalist whose life they said depended on U.S. action in Iraq.
The video, titled “A Message To America,” was posted on social media sites. It was not immediately possible to verify its authenticity.
Foley, who has reported in the Middle East for five years, was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, by unidentified gunmen.
New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte each said they were working with the U.S. State Department to determine whether the video is authentic.
“I’ve been in touch with the State Department, which is looking into the origin and authenticity of this vile video showing a savage murder and cowardly act of terrorism,” Shaheen said in a statement. “I’m praying for the entire Foley family right now.”
“If confirmed, this barbarous and heinous act shocks the conscience and underscores the truly evil nature of the terrorists we confront, who must be defeated,” Ayotte said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with James Foley’s family at this extremely difficult time.”
Foley, who is the oldest of five children, had been working as a freelance journalist in the Middle East — including in Afghanistan — for five years before being kidnapped while working as a videographer for Agence France-Presse near the city of Idlib, Syria.
At the time, he was 39.
“We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers,” according to a statement posted on a Facebook account, “Free James Foley,” created to raise awareness about his kidnapping.
Foley, whose family lives in Rochester, had previously been held captive for 44 days in Libya in 2011.
Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has worked for Time, appeared at the end of the video. He disappeared in northern Syria while he was reporting in July 2013.
The Islamic State had not previously executed American citizens publicly. The video was posted after the United States resumed air strikes in Iraq for the first time since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011.
The Sunni militant group has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria in areas it controls.
The video opened with a clip of U.S. President Barack Obama saying he had authorized strikes in Iraq.
“Obama authorizes military operations against the Islamic State effectively placing America upon a slippery slope towards a new war front against Muslims,” words appear in English and Arabic on the screen.
It showed black and white aerial footage of air strikes with text saying “American aggression against the Islamic State.”
A person identified as James Foley and wearing an orange outfit is seen kneeling in the desert as a man in black dress with a black mask stands beside him, holding a knife.
“I call on my friends, family and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality,” the kneeling man says.
The man in the mask speaks in a British accent and says: “This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen, of your country. As a government, you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State.”
“Today your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency. We are an Islamic army, and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.”
Following his statement he beheads the kneeling man.
At the end of the video, words on the side of the screen say “Steven Joel Sotloff” as another prisoner in an orange jumpsuit is shown on screen.
“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the masked man says.
Islamic State also released a video on Tuesday that gave the strongest indication yet it might attempt to strike American targets.
The video with the theme “breaking of the American cross” boasts Islamic State will emerge victorious over “crusader” America.
It follows a video posted on Monday, warning of attacks on American targets if Washington struck against its fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The latest footage spoke of a holy war between the al-Qaeda offshoot and the United States, which occupied Iraq for nearly a decade and faced stiff resistance from al-Qaeda.
Islamic State’s sweep through northern Iraq, bringing it close to Baghdad and in control of the second city, Mosul, drew U.S. air strikes on the country for the first time since the end of the American occupation in 2011.
U.S. air strikes have helped Kurdish peshmerga fighters who held parts of the north regain some territory captured by the Sunni militants.
Unlike al-Qaeda, Islamic State has so far focused on territorial gains designed to eventually establish a full-blown Islamic empire.
Tuesday’s video shows an American soldier crying over the death of a comrade as the Christian hymn Amazing Grace can be heard. (Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz in Baghdad and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; Editing by Chris Reese and Ken Wills)