WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — The former deputy director of the CIA says that the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq is trying to intimidate the United States by releasing the beheading video of American journalist James Foley.
“I think what ISIS is trying to do here is intimidate the United States into backing off of the attacks that we’ve done the last several weeks,” CBS News senior security contributor Mike Morell told “CBS This Morning.” “And I think our response should be, and our response will be, to not do that. In fact, we should pick up the pace here.”
ISIS released video online Tuesday of Foley getting beheaded by an executioner who speaks with a British accent. The video begins with scenes of President Barack Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes against the terror group in Iraq.
It then cuts to Foley wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling in the desert, next to a black-clad militant with a knife to his throat. Foley’s name appears in both English and Arabic graphics on screen, and he is wearing a clip-on microphone as he begins his statement. The scene is captured on at least two video cameras and has been edited in a professional style.
After the captive speaks, the masked man is shown apparently beginning to cut at the neck of the captive; the video fades to black before the beheading is completed. The next shot appears to show the captive lying dead on the ground, his head on his body. The video appears to have been shot in an arid area; there is no vegetation to be seen and the horizon is in the distance where the sand meets the gray-blue sky. The sound quality is sharp.
“The definition of terrorism is violence for political effect,” Morell told CBS News. “We should mark this date down because this is ISIS’ first terrorist attack against the United States.”
ABC News reports that the White House was previously aware of the terror group’s threat to kill Foley in response to the U.S. airstrikes.
Another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, was identified at the end of the video, also wearing an orange jumpsuit. The executioner stated that he would suffer the same fate as Foley. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine.
Morell believes that despite the threat, the U.S. needs to keep moving forward with its policy to target ISIS.
“We need to keep moving forward with our policy. I would suspect ISIS may assassinate him, but we need to keep moving forward. We cannot let something like this stop us,” Morell stated.
Morell added that the number one thing the U.S. needs to worry about is Western foreign fighters coming back to the homeland.
“We know that there are a large number of foreign fighters who have gone to Syria and who have joined the fight for ISIS. They are both in Syria and they’re in Iraq,” Morell explained. “A number of those are Americans. A number of those are Europeans who have passports where they do not need visas to get to the United States. So this is the main danger that ISIS now poses to the United States. ISIS could send those individuals back to the United States to conduct attacks. That is the number one thing we need to worry about.”
Foley, a 40-year-old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria in November 2012 while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. The car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a contested battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control. He had not been heard from since.
The beheading marks the first time the Islamic State has killed an American citizen since the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011, upping the stakes in an increasingly chaotic and multilayered war. The killing is likely to complicate U.S. involvement in Iraq and the Obama administration’s efforts to contain the group as it expands in both Iraq and Syria.
The group is the heir apparent of the militancy known as al Qaeda in Iraq, which beheaded many of its victims, including American businessman Nicholas Berg in 2004.
The Islamic State militant group is so ruthless in its attacks against all people they consider heretics or infidels that it has been disowned by al Qaeda’s leaders. In seeking to impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in the lands it is trying to control, the extremists have slain soldiers and civilians alike in horrifying killings — including mounting the decapitated heads of some of its victims on spikes.
Several senior U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the situation said the Islamic State very recently threatened to kill Foley to avenge the crushing airstrikes over the last two weeks against militants advancing on Mount Sinjar, the Mosul dam and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
Both areas are in northern Iraq, which has become a key front for the Islamic State as its fighters travel to and from Syria.
Since Aug. 8, the U.S. military has struck more than 70 Islamic State targets — including security checkpoints, vehicles and weapons caches. It’s not clear how many militants have been killed in the strikes, although it’s likely that some were.
Officials from the State Department and Pentagon contacted social media sites Tuesday to inform them of the video and ask them to remove it. White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the Obama administration asked the sites to “take appropriate action consistent with their stated usage policies.”
In 2011, Foley was among a small group of journalists held captive for six weeks by the government in Libya and was released after receiving a one-year suspended sentence on charges of illegally entering the country. In a May 2011 interview about his experience, he recounted watching a fellow journalist being killed in a firefight and said he would regret that day for the rest of his life. At the time, Foley said he would “would love to go back” to Libya to report on the conflict and spoke of his enduring commitment to the profession of journalism.
“Journalism is journalism,” Foley said during the AP interview, which was held in GlobalPost’s office in Boston. “If I had a choice to do Nashua (New Hampshire) zoning meetings or give up journalism, I’ll do it. I love writing and reporting.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimated Tuesday that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria, and has not released their nationalities. In its annual report last November, CPJ concluded that the missing journalists are either being held and threatened with death by extremists, or taken captive by gangs seeking ransom. The group’s report described the widespread seizure of journalists as unprecedented and largely unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help in the captives’ release.
Earlier Tuesday, GlobalPost CEO and co-founder Philip Balboni in a statement asked “for your prayers for Jim and his family.” AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog said the French news agency was “horrified” by the video and called Foley “a brave, independent and impartial journalist.”
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