Islamic State group says it beheaded Rochester journalist James Foley
FILE - In this Friday, May 27, 2011, file photo, journalist James Foley poses for a photo during an interview with The Associated Press, in Boston. A video released by Islamic State militants that purports to show the killing of Foley by the militant group was released Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Foley, from Rochester, N.H., went missing in 2012 in northern Syria while on assignment for Agence France-Press and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
A ribbon is tied to a tree outside the home of American freelance journalist James Foley, on Tuesday Aug. 19, 2014, in Rochester, N.H. A video by Islamic State militants that purports to show the killing of Foley by the militant group was released Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
The Islamic State militant group claimed yesterday to have beheaded a photojournalist from Rochester in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
A video posted on YouTube, later removed, purported to show the execution of James Foley after he recited a statement in which he called the U.S. government “my real killers.” A second prisoner, said to be Steven Joel Sotloff, like Foley an American journalist who disappeared while covering Syria’s civil war, then appears in the video.
U.S. intelligence officials said last night they were still evaluating the video and could not immediately authenticate it.
Foley’s family, however, confirmed his death in a statement posted on a webpage that was created to rally support for his release.
In the statement, Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, said the journalist, “gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Several state officials issued brief statements on Foley last night.
Gov. Maggie Hassan called Foley a “talented and fearless photojournalist” who captured stories of heartbreak and hope.
U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter remembered Foley as a child and said she would “not allow evil” to change her memories of the journalist.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen praised Foley’s dedication to freedom of the press and called his apparent murder a “cowardly act of terrorism.”
And U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte called Foley’s death a “barbaric and heinous act.”
President Obama is expected to make a statement today, an official told the Associated Press.
Foley, 40, was working in Syria for the Boston-based news website GlobalPost when he disappeared on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.
Philip Balboni, GlobalPost’s chief executive and co-founder, made the following statement: “On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. Until we have that determination, we will not be in a position to make any further statement. We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.”
Sotloff, a freelancer who worked for several news organizations, disappeared in Syria last August.
In addition to Foley and Sotloff, at least three other Americans are believed to be captive in Syria, including Austin Tice, a freelance journalist whose articles appeared in the Washington Post before his disappearance in August 2012. No one has claimed to be holding them.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 66 journalists, all but 10 of them Syrian, have been killed covering the Syrian war. If the video is authenticated, Foley will be the first American journalist known to be executed since the conflict began in early 2011. The video evoked the 2002 taped execution in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl by al-Qaida.
Islamic State, an offshoot of al-Qaida, is the most powerful among a number of extremist organizations that have emerged during the Syrian civil war, which began as a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad. Fighting against both Assad and U.S.-backed rebels, the militants now control much of eastern Syria and claim to have established an Islamic caliphate spanning Syria and neighboring Iraq.
As the group has grown, it has merged with the group formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to U.S. intelligence, it numbers in the thousands, including foreign fighters from Europe and the United States.
In April, Islamic State fighters swept across the border into northern Iraq, taking over the city of Mosul before moving southward to within 60 miles of Baghdad. Extensive reports of executions, including beheadings and crucifixions, have emerged from areas under the group’s control.
Early this month, amid reports of stranded and besieged Iraqi minorities threatened with execution, the militants advanced eastward toward Irbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
On Aug. 7, Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes to rescue stranded minorities and protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Irbil and Baghdad. On Monday, after a total of 68 strikes from fighter jets, bombers and drones, Obama announced that Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with U.S. air support, had retaken a strategic dam north of Mosul from the militants and that they had been pushed back from Irbil.
Within hours of that announcement, the Islamic State posted an online message warning it would attack Americans “in any place” in response to the airstrikes. “We will drown all of you in blood,” it said.
The title of the video posted yesterday was “A Message to America” and was produced by the Islamic State’s media arm, according to the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites.
Foley grew up in New Hampshire and studied history at Marquette University. He later taught in Arizona, Massachusetts and Chicago before switching careers to become a journalist, which he viewed as a calling. Foley reported from some of the most dangerous recent crises and was imprisoned for 44 days in Libya in 2011 by forces loyal to deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)