Obama Vows Justice for ISIS’ Slayings of American Journalists

Steven Sotloff Getty

President Barack Obama on Wednesday said the savage slayings of two American journalists by the militant group ISIS has “repulsed” Americans and only strengthens the country’s resolve to exact justice.

The president’s remarks came one day after ISIS released a video showing the beheading of Steven Sotloff, a Time magazine contributor who risked his life to cover the Middle East. The video was reportedly similar in tone to the one released two weeks earlier showing the murder of freelance journalist James Foley.

The National Security Council early Friday morning said the US authorities had analyzed the Sotloff video and concluded that it is authentic.

“Overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence,” Obama said during a press conference in Estonia, where he is attending a NATO meeting. “We cannot even begin to imagine the agony that everyone who loved Steven is feeling right now, especially his mother, his father and his younger sister. So today, our country grieves with them.”

Obama said ISIS’ strategy to post videos of American executions won’t have its intended effect.

“Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed,” he said. “They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.”

Obama, who last month ordered missile strikes to push back ISIS militants ravaging large swaths of Iraq and Syria, also vowed that America would punish those responsible for the murders.

“Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served,” Obama said.

Like Foley, Sotloff, 31, felt compelled to travel to some of the most dangerous hot spots in the world and document the upheaval in such places as Syria and Libya.

Sotloff, who went missing last year, reappeared in the same video in which ISIS distributed when the group killed Foley.

Sotloff was forced to wear an orange jumpsuit, ostensibly similar to the kind the detainees wear at Guantanamo, and was seen kneeling in the sand with his hands bound.

Sotloff, reciting a statement that perhaps his captors forced him into making, reportedly looked into the camera and directed his comments at Obama.

“Your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?” he said.

Obama has been criticized recently for saying he does not yet have a strategy for confronting ISIS, which also goes by the names Islamic State, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

During his press conference, Obama, as he did when Foley was killed, honored Sotloff for his bravery.

“Like Jim Foley before him, Steven’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who have murdered him so brutally,” Obama said. “They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world. His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East, risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.”

It’s unclear if Sotloff was killed on the same day the video was released or at an earlier date. On Tuesday, ISIS suffered a military setback when its weeks-long siege of Amerli, a town in northern Iraq, was lifted by a coalition of Iraqi and Iranian forces with air power provided by the US.

Last week, his mother Shirley, released a video to her son’s hostage takers hoping to appeal to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself caliph.

“I am sending this message to you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi al-Hussaini, the caliph of the Islamic State. I am Shirley Sotloff. My son Steven is in your hands,” she said, according to the New York Times.

“You, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you please to release my child,” she added. “I ask you to use your authority to spare his life.”

On Tuesday, Obama authorized the Department of Defense to deploy 350 additional military personnel to protect diplomatic facilities and personnel located in Baghdad.

The White House said the troops won’t serve in a combat role, but will help previously deployed military personnel to leave Iraq and will provide “a more robust, sustainable security force for our personnel and facilities in Baghdad.”

Obama is scheduled to speak with NATO allies about additional actions to take against ISIS.

Sotloff joins the tragic list of American journalists who have either been killed or captured while covering the conflict in Syria.

Marie Colvin, an East Norwich native, was killed in 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war for The Sunday Times in London. Matthew Schrier, a photojournalist from Syosset, escaped from Nusa Front militants last summer after seven months in captivity.

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