President Barack Obama has said that the United States will not be intimidated by Islamic State (IS) militants after the beheading of a second American journalist.
He also vowed the US will build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the group but still did not give a timeline for deciding on a strategy to go after the extremist group’s operations in Syria.
“It’ll take time to roll them back,” the president said at a news conference during a visit to Europe.
Mr Obama’s comments came after he said the US had verified the authenticity of a video released on Tuesday showing the beheading of freelance reporter Steven Sotloff, two weeks after journalist James Foley was similarly killed.
The president vowed the US would not forget the “terrible crime against these two fine young men”. He added: “Our reach is long and justice will be served.”
In the latest video, a masked militant warns Mr Obama that as long as US airstrikes against the militant group continue, “our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people”.
Mr Obama responded that he will continue to fight the militant threat and the “barbaric and ultimately empty vision” it represents.
“Our objective is to make sure that Isil (Islamic State) is not an ongoing threat to the region,” he said. “And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort.”
Mr Sotloff, a 31-year-old from the Miami, Florida, area who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, vanished a year ago in Syria and was not seen again until he appeared in the video showing Mr Foley’s beheading.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against an arid Syrian landscape, Mr Sotloff was threatened in that video with death unless the US stopped airstrikes on IS.
In the video distributed yesterday and titled A Second Message to America, Mr Sotloff appears in a similar jumpsuit before he is apparently beheaded by a fighter with IS, the extremist group that has conquered wide swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq and declared itself a caliphate.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the masked, British-accented jihadist appears to be the same person shown in the footage of Mr Foley.
In the video, the organisation threatens to kill another hostage, this one identified as a British citizen.
Last week, Mr Sotloff’s mother, Shirley Sotloff, pleaded with his captors for mercy, saying in a video that her son was “an innocent journalist” and “an honourable man” who “has always tried to help the weak”.
Mr Obama said the prayers of the American people are with the family of the “devoted and courageous journalist” who deeply loved the Islamic world and whose “life stood in stark contrast to those who murdered him so brutally”.
“Whatever these murderers think they will achieve by murdering innocents like Steven, they have already failed,” Mr Obama said. “We will not be intimated. Their horrific acts only unite us.”
Militants from the Islamic State group carried out a mass killing of hundreds of Iraqi soldiers captured when the extremists overran a military base north of Baghdad in June, a leading international watchdog has said.
The incident at Camp Speicher, an air base that previously served as a US military facility, was one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by IS in its lightning offensive that seized large swaths of northern and western Iraq.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), new evidence indicates IS fighters killed between 560 and 770 men captured at Camp Speicher, near the city of Tikrit - a figure several times higher than what was initially reported.
“These are horrific and massive abuses, atrocities by the Islamic State, and on a scale that clearly rises to the crimes against humanity,” Fred Abrahams, special HRW adviser, told reporters in the northern city of Irbil.
The al Qaida-breakaway claimed in mid-June that it had “executed” about 1,700 soldiers and military personnel from Camp Speicher. The group also posted graphic photos that appeared to show its gunmen massacring scores of Iraqi soldiers after loading the captives onto flatbed trucks and then forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch, their arms tied behind their backs.
The grisly images, meant to sap the morale of Iraqi security forces, and the number of slain troops could not be confirmed at the time. HRW said in late June that analysis of photos and satellite images showed that between 160 and 190 men were killed in at least two locations between June 11 and 14.
After the incident, the soldiers were listed as missing, prompting their families to stage demonstrations in Baghdad in an effort to pressure authorities for word on their sons’ fate. Yesterday, dozens of angry family members stormed into the parliament in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone after scuffling with security guards, causing commotion and arguing with lawmakers.
They also forced the speaker to call a session today on the missing soldiers.
The HRW statement said the revised figure for the slain soldiers was based on analysis of new satellite imagery, militant videos and a survivor’s account that confirmed the existence of three more “mass execution sites”.
The number of victims may well be even higher as more evidence emerges, the New York-based watchdog said.
“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”
Also today, the UN envoy in Iraq called for a public and independent investigation by Iraqi authorities into the fate of the missing soldiers and the recovery of the remains of those killed.
The investigation is needed “to locate and identify the remains of any who may have been killed, and to undertake all efforts to secure the release of any who may remain in captivity,” Nickolay Mladenov said.
In his weekly address to the nation, outgoing Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said that a number of “perpetrators” of Camp Speicher atrocities have been arrested or killed and that “security forces were pursuing” others. Mr Maliki did not elaborate.
The onslaught by IS has stunned Iraq’s security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the extremists advanced and captured key cities and towns. The militants also targeted Iraq’s indigenous religious minorities, including Christians and followers of the ancient Yazidi faith, forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
Since then, IS has carved out a self-styled caliphate in the large area straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border that it now controls.
In early August, the US launched airstrikes on the militant group in Iraq, in an effort to help Iraqi forces fight back against the growing militant threat.
Also this week, the United Nations’ top human rights body approved a request by Iraq to open an investigation into suspected crimes committed by the IS group against civilians.
Its aim would be to provide the Human Rights Council with evidence on atrocities committed in Iraq, which could be used as part of any international war crimes prosecution.