WASHINGTON -- The Islamic State on Wednesday posted a video purportedly showing the beheading of an American photographer and threatened to execute a second American captive if President Barack Obama didn't halt U.S. airstrikes against its fighters in northern Iraq.
The video, posted on YouTube and disseminated on other social media, added a horrific new twist to a crisis in which Obama has struggled to limit U.S. intervention nearly three years after he withdrew the last U.S. combat troops following a nearly nine-year military occupation.
Before he was executed, a man -- who bore a very close likeness to American photojournalist James Foley -- delivered a statement in which he criticized U.S. policy on Iraq and asserted that he was being killed because of Obama's decision to authorize limited airstrikes against the Islamic State.
"I call on my family and friends and loved ones to rise up against the real killers, the U.S. government," said the man, who was dressed in a loose-fitting costume of orange, the same color as the uniforms worn by detainees who underwent abuse at the U.S. military-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. "For what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality."
Flanked by a masked fighter clad in a black uniform as he kneeled in a bleak unidentified desert setting, the man continued: "My message to my beloved parents: Save me some dignity and don't accept any meager compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hammered the last nail in my coffin with their recent aerial campaign in Iraq."
In a slightly quivering voice, the man then called on a brother, John, who he said serves in the U.S. Air Force, to "think about what you are doing."
"Think about who made the decision to bomb Iraq recently and kill those people, whoever they may have been," he continued. "I died that day, John, when your colleagues dropped the bomb on those people. They signed my death certificate."
The black-clad fighter, a knife gripped in one hand, then warned in slightly accented English that more Americans would be killed if there were more American attacks on the caliphate declared by the group on the huge swaths of northern Iraq and eastern Syria that it has overrun.
"Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights to live in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people," he said, pointing the knife at the camera.
The fighter then moved behind the kneeling man's back, pulled back his head and began sawing his neck with the knife.
It was not immediately confirmed that the man was Foley, a photojournalist from Rochester, N.H., who worked for the Global Post among other news organizations and who was captured in northwest Syria in November 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war.
A separate social media post featured photographs of the man while he was kneeling and then his decapitated corpse, his blood-covered head sitting on its back.
In a separate posting on Twitter, a picture showed a man identified as Steven Joel Sotloff dressed in the same orange clothing and kneeling in a desertlike setting. He was flanked by a masked, black-clad fighter holding him by his collar.
"The life of Steven Joel Soltoff depends on Obama's next move," said a statement in Arabic at the bottom of the picture.
Soltoff, who wrote for Time magazine and the National Interest, has been missing since mid-2013.
National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement: "We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIL.
The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available."
Distributed by MCT Information Services. Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com