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October 26, 2014

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Obama, allies vow firm response to Islamic State

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Jacquelyn Martin / AP

President Barack Obama speaks about the killing of journalist James Foley in Syria during a statement in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 | 2:03 p.m.

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This undated file still image from video released April 7, 2011, by GlobalPost, shows James Foley of Rochester, N.H., a freelance contributor for GlobalPost, in Benghazi, Libya. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say.

WASHINGTON — The United States stood firm Wednesday in its fight against Islamic State militants who beheaded a U.S. journalist in Iraq, pledging to continue attacking the group despite its threats to kill another American hostage. President Barack Obama denounced the group as a "cancer" threatening the entire region as the administration weighed sending even more American troops to Iraq.

"We will be vigilant and we will be relentless," Obama said as the U.S. military pressed ahead with more airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq.

The execution of journalist James Foley drew international condemnation, and western nations responded with stepped-up efforts to counter the threat posed by Islamic State. Germany announced it would supply the Kurds with weapons to fight the insurgent. Italy's defense minister said the country hopes to contribute machine guns, ammunition and anti-tank rockets. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the killing showed the true face of this "caliphate of barbarism."

In capitals across the Middle East, by contrast, the news of Foley's death was met with silence, even in Syria and Iraq — the two countries where the Islamic State is strongest. On social media, people in the region condemned Foley's killing, but stressed that the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against Iraqis and Syrians for years.

In Foley's home town of Rochester, New Hampshire, his parents spoke to reporters in an appearance where wrenching grief over their son's death mingled with laughter over his life. Diane Foley said her son was courageous to the end and called his death "just evil."

"We are just very proud of Jimmy and we are praying for the strength to love like he did and keep courageous and keep fighting for all the people he was fighting for," she said. "We pray for all the remaining Americans."

Obama's remarks affirmed that the U.S. would not scale back its military posture in Iraq in response to Foley's killing. In fact, the State Department did not rule out extending military operations into Syria to bring those responsible to justice, with spokeswoman Marie Harf saying the U.S. "reserves the right to hold people accountable when they harm Americans. What that looks like going forward, those conversations will be happening."

Since the video was released Tuesday, the U.S. military has conducted 14 airstrikes on Islamic State targets. And U.S. officials said military planners were considering the possibility of sending a small number of additional troops to Iraq, at the request of the State Department, mainly to provide additional security around Baghdad.

Obama said he'd told Foley's family in a phone call Wednesday that the United States joins them in honoring all that Foley did, praising the journalist for his work telling the story of the crisis in Syria, where Foley was captured in 2012. "Jim Foley's life stands in stark contrast to his killers," Obama said. He spoke from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where his family is vacationing.

Foley, 40, 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.

"All of us feel the ache of his absence," Obama said. "All of us mourn his loss."

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-Qaida in Iraq, which beheaded many of its victims, including American businessman Nicholas Berg in 2004.

The video released on websites Tuesday suggests increasing sophistication of the Islamic State group's media unit and begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes. It then cuts to Foley, kneeling in the desert. A masked militant is shown apparently beginning to cut at Foley's neck. The video fades to black before the beheading is completed; the next shot shows Foley's dead body.

The militant in the video has not been identified, but he spoke with a British accent, and British Prime Minister David Cameron said that "from what we have seen it looks increasingly likely that is a British citizen." U.S. officials agreed with that assessment.

GlobalPost President Philip Balboni said the news service received an email "full of rage" last week in which Foley's captors threatened to kill him. Balboni said the White House was aware of the threat, but no negotiations took place.

Obama did not specifically mention Steven Sotloff, another kidnapped American journalist that Islamic State says could be killed next. But he offered prayers on behalf of the American people for "those other Americans who are separated from their families."

A man identified as Sotloff appears at the end of the Foley video. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013. He had freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine.

Tuesday's airstrikes by American fighter jets and drones centered on targets around the Mosul Dam and were designed to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces create a buffer zone at the key facility, according to a U.S. official. The official was not authorized to discuss the ongoing operations publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Since Aug. 8, there have been 84 U.S. airstrikes in Iraq on 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.

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-Qaida'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 ways — including mounting the decapitated heads of some of its victims on spikes.

Senators from both parties condemned the killing, and some Republicans questioned Obama's resolve in confronting the Islamic State.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Obama's tone was right but his strategy insufficient.

"The strategy should be to launch all-out air attacks in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS, not stop them," McCain said in a telephone interview.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says that more than 80 journalists have been abducted in Syria, and estimates that around 20 are currently missing there. It has not released their nationalities. In its annual report in November, the committee 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.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Bradley Klapper, Julie Pace and Josh Lederman in Washington, Jim Kuhnhenn in Massachusetts, Ryan Lucas in Beirut, Rik Stevens in Rochester, New Hampshire, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

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