President Obama on Wednesday condemned the beheading of New Hampshire-based journalist James Foley, calling the Islamic militant group believed to be responsible a “cancer” and vowing justice. “The entire world is appalled,” said President Obama, in a televised statement from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he is vacationing. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday or every single day ... People like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future’s won by those who build and not destroy. The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley.”
A U.S. Special Operations team tried and failed to rescue Foley and other Americans held hostage in Syria during a secret mission in early July authorized by President Obama.
“The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the President authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens,” Lisa Monaco, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Barack Obama, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”
Obama said he was in contact with Foley’s parents, John and Diane of Rochester, on Wednesday. The couple’s 40-year-old son was kidnapped in Syria two years ago while reporting on the conflict there for GlobalPost.
“Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend,” said Obama. “He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away. Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.”
“I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss, and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did,” said Obama.
A chilling message
Reuters reported that on the night of Aug. 13, Foley’s family received a chilling message: He would be executed in retaliation for U.S. air strikes on the militant group Islamic State.
The family passed the message on to the U.S. government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which handles cases involving kidnapped American citizens, helped craft a response, pleading for mercy, said Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that employed Foley.
“It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist” who respected the people of Syria, where he was held, Balboni said told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said.
Obama did not reference the threat during his statement, and did not field any questions from media members.
The President said a group like ISIS has “no place in the 21st century.”
“They (ISIS) have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence,” said Obama. “They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery.”
Bishop Peter Libasci of the Archdiocese of Manchester issued a statement on Wednesday calling Foley’s murder an act of “unspeakable evil.”
“The brutality of this act is itself evidence of an unspeakable evil that is rampant and inhuman,” LiBasci said. “To the prayers that have been offered since his captivity almost two years ago, we now add our prayers for James’ eternal rest and, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, James’ future resurrection to eternal life. Our prayers also must accompany a sorrowful mother, a grieving father, a deeply pained family and countless friends who have kept vigil all this time. May we also pray for those who have embraced the way of darkness and death, that they may turn away from this terrible evil now and forever.”
McCain: Increase airstrikes
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, called for an increase in U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, telling the Reuters news service the attacks should be extended into Syria.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this horrible video on the Internet is bound to have an impact on the American people,” McCain told Reuters. “The nature of the brutality of this organization has been brought home by this. We have to defeat them, not stop them.”
The video shows an ISIS militant wearing a black face mask addressing President Obama directly.
“Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their right to live in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” he says.
Journalist Steven Sotloff
Among the hostages sought in last month’s rescue mission was Steven Sotloff, the American journalist who was threatened with beheading in the same video that showed the grisly execution of Foley. Sotloff has been missing since Aug. 4, 2013.
Julia Brennan, director of communications at Kimball Union Academy, confirmed Sotloff is a 2002 graduate of the New Hampshire school, but would say no more “in the interest of protecting Steven’s safety and security, his privacy and the privacy of his family at this incredibly difficult and precarious time ...”
On his Twitter page, Sotloff describes himself as a “stand-up philosopher from Miami” and Miami Heat basketball fan whose work has appeared in Time magazine and Foreign Policy magazine.
Sotloff has reported from Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, among other countries, according to his Twitter feed and past news articles.
“I met with the Sotloff family in Miami and have spoken to them over the phone while in D.C. regarding their son Steven’s situation,” U.S. Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R.-Fla.) said Wednesday in a statement.
“My office has contacted the relevant agencies, departments and even organizations with connections on the ground in Syria to try to get answers for the Sotloff family. This is a tragic situation and we have seen that ISIS has no respect for human life.”
Though he did not mention Sotloff specifically, Obama promised that, “the United States of America will continue to do what they must do to protect our people.”
“We will be vigilant. We will be relentless,” Obama said.