For the second time in as many weeks, a masked militant, representing an extremist group known as the Islamic State, has sent the United States a bloody “message,” a video of a beheading of an American journalist.
The victim in the most recent recording is Steven J. Sotloff, 31, of Miami, a freelance writer for Time and Foreign Policy magazines who was known for his in-the-trenches reporting about the human cost of the Syrian war and its refugees. Now he has become a victim of the worst the region has to offer.
The video shows a man with a British accent clad in black standing over a kneeling Sotloff saying that he is sending a “second message to America.”
The first was the beheading of American journalist James Foley on Aug. 19, apparently at the hand of the same individual.
It’s a savage spectacle. The American reply must be swift, precise and, above all, uncompromising. The U.S. needs to send the message that it will not be intimidated by such barbaric tactics and will not rest until those responsible are brought to justice.
President Barack Obama, who has been slow to develop a policy for confronting the growing threat that is the Islamic State, indicated Wednesday that such a response was in the works. “Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed,” Obama said. “They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism.” He said those who harm Americans will learn “that we will not forget, and that our reach is long …”
Vice President Joe Biden went so far as to vow the U.S. would pursue the terrorists “to the gates of hell … Because hell is where they will reside.”
The latest beheading appeared to be in response to the U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that helped Iraqi forces repel Islamic State fighters who had laid siege to a small town in northern Iraq. The U.S. must not only continue to lend such air support to Iraq, it now must look to striking ISIS at its heart, in its home base inside Syria.
More American lives and the lives of other journalists — as well as the ability of journalists to move and report freely from the region — hinge on such a swift U.S. response.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sotloff’s death brings the number of journalists killed in Syria to at least 70. More than 80 in all have been kidnapped since the civil war in Syria began. While many of these disappearances have gone unpublicized, the risks to these individuals are made all too real by the release of these gruesome videos. Such barbarism must be stopped.