Obama condemns killing of reporter, U.S. hits militants in Iraq

BAGHDAD/EDGARTOWN Mass. (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama expressed revulsion on Wednesday at the beheading of an American journalist by Islamist militants and vowed the United States would do what it must to protect its citizens as international condemnation of the insurgents grew.

Not long after Obama called Islamic State a "cancer" with a bankrupt ideology, the Pentagon said U.S. aircraft conducted 14 air strikes in the vicinity of Iraq's Mosul Dam, destroying or damaging militants' Humvees, trucks and explosives.

Islamic State posted a video on Tuesday that purported to show the beheading of journalist James Foley in revenge for U.S. air strikes in Iraq. It prompted widespread horror that could push Western powers into further action against the group.

Britain's prime minister cut short his vacation as UK intelligence tried to identify Foley's killer, while France called for international coordination against the Islamist militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. officials said on Wednesday that intelligence analysts had concluded that the Islamic State video, titled "A Message to America," was authentic. It also showed images of another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, whose fate the group said depends on how the United States acts in Iraq.

The gruesome video presented Obama with bleak options that could define American involvement in Iraq and the public reaction to it, potentially dragging him further into a conflict he built much of his presidency on ending.

Obama called the beheading of Foley "an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world" and said the militants had killed innocent civilians, subjected women and children to torture, rape and slavery and targeted Muslims, Christians and religious minorities.

"So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day," Obama said in brief comments to reporters in Edgartown, Massachusetts, where he has been vacationing. He said he had spoken with Foley's family.

"ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would "never back down in the face of such evil.

"ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable," Kerry said in a statement.


INTELLIGENCE SERVICES

British anti-terrorist police began an investigation of the video, in which Foley's killer spoke with a London accent.

Apparently a British national, the killer is just one of hundreds of European Muslims drawn to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who authorities say pose a security threat to U.S. and European interests if they return home from the Middle East.

The video showed a high level of technical proficiency and the use of a British voice may have been intended to make its contents clear to audiences in the United States, Islamic State's declared enemy.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was not surprised to hear the British accent and that large numbers of British nationals were fighting in Iraq and Syria.

"Our intelligence services will be looking very carefully on both sides of the Atlantic at this video to establish its authenticity, to try to identify the individual concerned and then we will work together to try to locate him," Hammond told Sky news.

France said it wanted the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and regional countries, including Arab states and Iran, to coordinate action against Islamic State. President Francois Hollande called for an international conference to discuss how to tackle the group.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned "the horrific murder of journalist James Foley, an abominable crime that underscores the campaign of terror the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continues to wage against the people of Iraq and Syria," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.