By Todd Feurer
CHICAGO (CBS) — A visibly angry President Barack Obama condemned the beheading of veteran journalist and Northwestern University alum James Foley as “an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.”
The extremist militant group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) released video Tuesday showing Foley’s execution.
Foley, 40, was kidnapped in Syria two years ago. ISIS said his murder was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq, where it has taken control of large swaths of the country. The group also has threatened to kill another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes continue in Iraq.
In recent months, the U.S. military launched a secret mission in Syria carried out by highly trained operatives but failed to find Foley and other captives. It was at the president’s order.
Obama, however, did not back down from continued airstrikes in Iraq to support humanitarian efforts to deliver food and water to religious minorities trapped on a mountain by ISIS, and to protect American personnel and facilities threatened by ISIS forces.
The airstrikes also helped helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces recapture Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest dam, from ISIS. Obama has called that development a “major step forward” in the fight against ISIS.
The group, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is seeking to establish a caliphate — a single Islamic state under a supreme ruler — but Obama said the group “speaks for no religion.”
“Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents,” the president said. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.”
He also called on allies in the Middle East to band together to defeat ISIS.
“Governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread,” he said. “There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing that we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”
Obama said groups like ISIS are destined to fail, “because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”
The president said he called Foley’s family on Wednesday to express the nation’s sympathy.
“Jim’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers. Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence,” he said.
Meantime, in Chicago, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Foley’s execution at the hands of ISIS is “an indication of the treachery and violence which comes with terrorism in the Middle East.”
Durbin also expressed his condolences to Foley’s family.
“The United States of course has a responsibility to protect our American citizens – in official capacities and in other capacities – who are in these countries, but this development is heartbreaking. I cannot imagine what that poor family’s going through,” Durbin said.
Foley received a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2008.
In a statement on Northwestern’s website, Medill dean Bradley Hamm said:
“Our Medill family is shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the murder of Jim Foley. He was a courageous reporter who risked his life repeatedly to seek the truth around the world.
“Journalists face threats in many forms as they try to report difficult stories that need to be told, but the attack on Jim was barbaric. It was, in a larger sense, an attack on freedoms necessary in a civilized society and across strained cultures. Jim endures for us as a beacon reminding us of the risks implicit in shedding light where inhumanity can take hold.
“Our thoughts today are with Jim’s parents, Diane and John, and the entire Foley family and their friends. We ask that all Medill and Northwestern students, faculty, staff and alumni join us in remembrance of Jim Foley. The loss of such a distinguished alum affects us all.”
Foley received his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1996.
Marquette has scheduled a prayer vigil in Foley’s memory for Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 4 p.m. in the Chapel of the Holy Family at the Alumni Memorial Union. Marquette’s fall semester begins Aug. 25, so many students are not on campus yet.
The university also has posted a statement on its website:
“The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist James Foley, Arts ’96. We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James’ family and friends during this very difficult time.
“James, who majored in history at Marquette, had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world – a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder.
“Following his first capture in 2011, after he safely returned from Libya, James expressed in a letter to the Marquette community the power and strength he drew not only from his own prayer, but the prayers of his family and friends. As a community, we offer this prayer for peace.”
Prior to enrolling at Medill, Foley worked as a language arts teacher at Cook County Jail. He taught as part of the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center to help those accused of less serious crimes.
“As a family the size of the Cook County Department of Corrections, we all feel each other’s’ pain and as word spread people were extraordinarily saddened,” said Cara Smith, executive director of the Cook County Jail.