President Barack Obama on Wednesday confirmed the authenticity of a video showing the beheading of Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist executed in two weeks by Islamic militants in response to U.S. airstrikes against its fighters in northern Iraq.
“Overnight, our government determined that tragically Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence,” Obama said early Wednesday morning during a press conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Estonia before the NATO summit in Wales. “We can’t even begin to imagine the agony everyone who loves Steven is feeling right now.”
Sotloff, 31, of Miami, Fla., appeared to have been executed within the last two days as his killer referred to U.S. airstrikes that on Sunday helped Iraqi forces break a two-month-long Islamic State siege of Amerli, a town populated by minority ethnic Turkmen. He appeared to have been killed by the same suspected British militant who beheaded American freelance photojournalist James Foley, 40, of Rochester, N.H., on Aug. 19.
“Whatever these murders think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed,” Obama said. “They 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 fight against these terrorists and 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.”
The video of Foley’s slaying ended with the militant threatening to kill Sotloff unless Obama halted the U.S. airstrikes _ which now total more than 120 _ that began on Aug.8.
On Wednesday, Obama called Sotloff a “devoted, courageous journalist.”
“Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who 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.”
Obama said at the news conference that his goal is to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic militant group so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq, but also the region and to the United States. But, he said, it will “take time” before U.S. forces can push the militants back and create the regional coalition needed to provide unity in Iraq.
“It’s not only that we’re going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men. More broadly the United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the barbaric and ultimately empty vision that ISIL represents and that’s going to take some time, but we’re going to get it done,” Obama said. “I’m very confident of it.”