NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States will not be intimidated by Islamic State militants after the beheading of a second American journalist and will build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the group.
Obama still did not give a timeline for deciding on a strategy to go after the extremist group’s operations in Syria. “It’ll take time to roll them back,” the president said at a news conference during a visit to Europe.
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The president’s comments came after he said the United States had verified the authenticity of a video released Tuesday showing the beheading of freelance reporter Steven Sotloff, two weeks after journalist James Foley was similarly killed.
Obama vowed the U.S. would not forget the “terrible crime against these two fine young men.”
“Our reach is long and justice will be served,” Obama said.
In the Sotloff video, a masked militant warns Obama that as long as U.S. airstrikes against the militant group continue, “our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Obama responded that he will continue to fight the militant threat and the “barbaric and ultimately empty vision” it represents.
“Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region,” he said, using an acronym for the militant group. “And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort.”
Sotloff, a 31-year-old Miami-area native who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, vanished a year ago in Syria and was not seen again until he appeared in the video that showed Foley’s beheading.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened in that video with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the Islamic State.
In the video distributed Tuesday and titled “A Second Message to America,” Sotloff appears in a similar jumpsuit before he is apparently beheaded by a fighter with the Islamic State, the extremist group that has conquered wide swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq and declared itself a caliphate.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC Wednesday that the masked, British-accented jihadist appears to be the same person shown in the Foley footage.
In the video, the organization threatens to kill another hostage, this one identified as a British citizen, David Cawthorne Haines. It was not immediately clear who Haines was.
Last week, Sotloff’s mother, Shirley Sotloff, pleaded with his captors for mercy, saying in a video that her son was “an innocent journalist” and “an honorable man” who “has always tried to help the weak.”
“I would hope that their deaths might not be in vain, that it might awaken the world, that we must must act as a unified world for peace and for goodness and just work together,” she said.
Obama said the prayers of the American people are with the family of the “devoted and courageous journalist” who deeply loved the Islamic world and whose “life stood in stark contrast to those who murdered him so brutally.”
“Whatever these murderers think they will achieve by murdering innocents like Steven, they have already failed,” Obama said. “We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us.”
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, the beheadings also triggered an angry reaction from Vice President Joe Biden who vowed that the U.S. would hunt down the killers.
“We take care of those who are grieving and when that’s finished they should know, we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside,” Biden said.
The White House said in a statement Tuesday night that Obama has approved the additional troops for protection of American personnel following a request by the State Department and a review and recommendation by the Defense Department.
The additional troops will not serve in a combat role, the White House said. Most are from the Army and some are Marines, the Pentagon said in a statement.
President Obama vowed to degrade and destroy ISIS or ISIL, but also added that other measures may be taken.
“We can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem,” President Obama said.
Long Island U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who called the Foley beheading an act of war, said before the announcement that the U.S. needs to take stronger action against ISIS, both in Iraq and Syria, and arm those whose land the Islamic State is trying to take over, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.
“What this shows is ISIS is a ruthless, brutal jihadist organization,” King said. “It’s a terrorist gang and the United States has to stop it. What they’ve done in these two beheadings is just a very small example of the type of atrocities that they want to carry out throughout the world.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called the killings of Foley and Sotloff “absolute tragedies.”
“They were true media professionals, committed to telling the world the truth, and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it. Freedom-loving people everywhere owe them an unpayable debt of gratitude,” Schumer said in a statement released Wednesday. “ISIS’s appalling, medieval barbarism offers the people of Iraq-and-beyond only a dark path to terror and totalitarianism, and shows we must be ever-vigilant against these pathological jihadists.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Sotloff’s death a “terrible tragedy” and said his heart goes out to Sotloff’s family and friends.
“His execution is a shocking and unacceptable act of evil that is beyond reprieve,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As New Yorkers we are especially sensitive to the pain and loss caused by terrorism and we understand we must actively confront this growing threat. And we will.”
Experts have been examining the ISIS tapes in hopes of identifying the executioner.
As barbaric as the videos are, analysts say they are actually a recruiting tool for ISIS.
“People with this extreme ideology have an almost pornographic attraction to these brutal acts. it inspires them. It energizes them,” terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank explained.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that it is believed that “a few” Americans are still being held by the Islamic State.
Psaki would not give any specifics, but one is a 26-year-old woman who was kidnapped while doing humanitarian aid work in Syria, according to a family representative who asked that the hostage not be identified out of fear for her safety.
The president heads to a NATO summit this week where he will try to enlist international support for pushing back ISIS in Iraq.
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