U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday denounced the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff as an act of “medieval savagery,” and said the militants who killed him were not the true face of Islam.
“The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murders,” Kerry said at a ceremony to honor the new special U.S. envoy to Muslim communities.
Kerry called the 31-year-old Sotloff “a driven and courageous journalist,” saying he was killed by a “coward hiding behind a mask” from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
After having worked to try to bring Sotloff home safely, Kerry said his murder so soon after that of fellow reporter James Foley last month was “a punch to the gut.”
The United States would hunt down Sotloff’s killers, Kerry vowed, moments before a U.S. intelligence official said there was no credible information that suggested ISIS was plotting an attack on the U.S.
The top American diplomat was speaking just hours after U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to fight ISIS until it was no longer a force in the Middle East.
“Those who have murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria need to know that the United States will hold them accountable … no matter how long it takes,” Kerry said to applause at the State Department ceremony for new envoy Shaarik Zafar.
‘ISIS not invincible’
A U.S. official said Wednesday ISIS was not invincible and had been weakened by U.S. airstrikes.
“The face of Islam is not the butchers that killed Steven Sotloff. That’s [ISIS]. The face of Islam is not the nihilists who know only how to destroy, not to build. It’s not masked cowards whose actions are an ugly insult to the peaceful religion that they violate every single day with their barbarity,” Kerry insisted.
“The real face of Islam is a peaceful religion, based on the dignity of all human beings. It’s one where Muslim communities are leading the fight against poverty, it’s one where Muslim communities are providing basic health care and emergency assistance on the front lines of some of our most devastating humanitarian crises.”
Kerry also paid tribute to Sotloff, saying his “reporting was as empathetic as his killers are evil” and comparing him to legendary 20th-century war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.
“He focused on the stories of average people trapped in war, and documented their day-in and day-out struggle for dignity,” Kerry said.
Sotloff, a 31-year-old Miami-area native 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 that showed Foley’s beheading. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened in that video with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the Islamic State.
In the video distributed Tuesday and titled “A Second Message to America,” Sotloff appears in a similar jumpsuit before he is apparently beheaded by a fighter with the Islamic State, the extremist group that has conquered wide swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq and declared itself a caliphate.
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. president vowed the United States would not forget the “terrible crime” against Sotloff and Foley.
“We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists,” Obama said.
“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.”
He also sought to clean up the damage from his statement last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS in Syria. Republicans quickly seized on the remark to argue the president lacks a coherent approach to fighting the extremist group, the Associated Press reported.
“It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that’s going to work, that we’re very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are,” Obama said. “We’ve made the case to Congress and we’ve made the case to the American people, and we’ve got allies behind us so that it’s not just a one-off, but it’s something that over time is going to be effective.”
“Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy [ISIS] so that it’s no longer a threat – not just to Iraq, but also the region and to the United States,” he said.
[With AFP, AP]SHOW MORE