James Foley, an American journalist abducted in northern Syria nearly two years ago, was purportedly beheaded by the Islamic militants ISIS Tuesday, according to graphic photos and video posted across social media outlets depicting the gruesome slaying.
The video shows a man it identifies as Foley kneeling in sand with his hands bound behind his back and a masked militant dressed completely in black who’s wielding a gun and knife standing alongside him. After Foley recites forced anti-American remarks, the militant, who speaks in English with a British accent, threatens the United States and President Obama, according to multiple news outlets, and then beheads Foley.
The militant states in the five-minute “A Message To America” clip that the murder is in retaliation for recent U.S. air strikes against the group, according to news outlets, and warns that another missing journalist it identifies as Steven Soltoff, a TIME contributor who’s been missing since the middle of last year—who also appears on his knees with his hands bound and wearing orange—will meet the same fate unless the strikes stop.
American warplanes have been targeting the group since it began slaughtering religious minorities including Christians and the followers of an ancient religious sect called the Yazidis, forcing hundreds of thousands to abandon their homes in western Iraq and seek refuge on a nearby mountain range. They’ve also abducted more than 1,000 Yazidi women, according to media reports from the conflict, who are feared to have become sex slaves and made to wed ISIS fighters.
ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State, proclaimed the creation of a caliphate, or Islamic state, across parts of western Iraq and northern Syria in June. Its leader, or caliph, is the militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Foley, now 40, had been traveling toward the Turkish border on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012, following several weeks of reporting inside northern Syria, wrote Phil Balboni, president and CEO of GlobalPost—an online news outlet dedicated to international affairs reporting Foley contributed to—in a note to staff last year on the anniversary of his disappearance. Its contents were republished on the Facebook page “Find James Foley” with his permission.
“The car in which Jim was riding was stopped by four armed men about 10 kilometers from the border near the small town of Taftanaz in an area which even then was the scene of very active conflict between rebel and government forces,” he wrote. “From that day to this we have had no direct contact with Jim and no communication with his kidnappers, nor has any ransom demand been received.”
Foley is the oldest of five children, according to FreeJamesFoley.org, a site created and maintained by his family that has served as an appeal for his unharmed release under the headline “Find James Foley.”
“He has reported independently and objectively from the Middle East for the past five years,” states the site. “Prior to his work as a journalist, Jim helped empower disadvantaged individuals as a teacher and mentor assisting them in improving their lives.”
Foley traveled extensively in the Middle East and North Africa and reported on conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, where he was once held captive for 44 days, reports NBC News, which has a partnership with GlobalPost.
The online news outlet’s Balboni issued the following statement Tuesday night in GlobalPost’s own story about the video:
“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. … We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.”
An outpouring of support for Foley and his family and resounding condemnation for his barbaric killing has flooded social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in its wake.
The latest message from administrators of the “Find James Foley” Facebook page reads a solemn:
“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.”
Two journalists with Long Island ties have also been victims of the Syrian conflict: Matthew Schrier, a Syosset native and photojournalist, escaped from ISIS rivals Nusa Front last summer after the group kidnapped him and Marie Colvin, an East Norwich native, was killed in 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war for The Sunday Times in London.