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Wed 3 Sep 2014 11:02 AM

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Iraq militants issue video of beheading of US hostage

Journalist Steven Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013; Group also threatens a man it calls a British hostage

Iraq militants issue video of beheading of US hostage

The ISIL militant group released a video on Tuesday
purporting to show the beheading of a second American hostage, journalist
Steven Sotloff, raising the stakes in its confrontation with Washington over US
air strikes in Iraq.

A masked figure in the video seen by Reuters also
issued a threat against a British hostage, a man the group named as David
Haines, and warned governments to back off "this evil alliance of
America".

A statement released by Sotloff's family through a
spokesman indicated the family considered the video to be authentic. "The
family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately. There will be
no public comment from the family during this difficult time," said the
spokesman, Barak Barfi. Britain unveils powers to strip suspected Islamist
fighters of passports

The purported executioner appeared to be the same
British-accented man who appeared in an August 19 video of the killing of
American journalist James Foley, and it showed a similar desert setting. In
both videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits.

In Washington, the White House said it could not
immediately confirm the authenticity of the Sotloff video. But several US
government sources said it appeared to be authentic.

Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist from
Florida, was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013.

"I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your
arrogant foreign policy towards the [ISIL], because of your insistence on
continuing your bombings and in Amerli, Zumar and the Mosul Dam, despite our
serious warnings," the masked man said in the video, addressing US
President Barack Obama.

"So just as your missiles continue to strike
our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people."

In the video, Sotloff describes himself as
"paying the price" with his life for the US intervention in Iraq.

The White House said late on Tuesday that Obama was
sending three top officials - Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco - to the Middle East
"in the near-term to build a stronger regional partnership" against
the ISIL militants.

US officials also said Obama ordered 350 more US
military personnel to protect the large American embassy in Baghdad, bringing
up to about 820 the number of US forces working to bolster diplomatic security
in Iraq.

Sotloff's mother, Shirley, appealed last Wednesday
for her son's release in a videotaped message to ISIL State's self-proclaimed
caliph, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

In the video it released last month, ISIL said
Foley's death was in retaliation for US air strikes on its insurgents who have
overrun wide areas of northern Iraq.

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in
August for the first time since the pullout of US troops in 2011.

The raids followed major gains by ISIL, which has
declared an Islamic Caliphate in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq.

"We have seen a video that purports to be the
murder of US citizen Steven Sotloff by the [ISIL]," White House National
Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.

"The intelligence community is working as
quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled
by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our
deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information
when it is available."

Iraq's outgoing foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari,
condemned what he called "this savage killing ... an example of savagery
and evil," and said it was evidence of the need for Iraq and the West to
defeat ISIL.

"We have a common enemy and the whole world is
moving in the right direction to stop this savagery and brutality," Zebari
said. "The whole world is standing united against IS. They must be
defeated so these horrid scenes will not be repeated."

Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim politician Sami Askari, who is
close to outgoing Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, said: "They are trying to
scare the Americans not to intervene. I don't think Washington will be scared
and stop...This is evil. Every human being has to fight this phenomenon. Like
cancer, there is no cure. You have to fight it."

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned
Sotloff's apparent decapitation as "an absolutely disgusting and
despicable act (by) barbaric terrorists". He said he would hold a meeting
of his security crisis team on Wednesday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the
killing a "further illustration of the barbarity without limit of this
caliphate of terror that must be fought with the utmost determination".

Obama did not answer questions from reporters as he
boarded his helicopter on the White House South Lawn en route to a military
base outside Washington, before flying on Air Force One bound for Estonia.

The video triggered new calls from Obama's critics
in the US Congress for more decisive action against ISIL State forces. Critics
accused the president of dithering after he said last Thursday: "We don't
have a strategy yet," to confront the operations of the militant group in
Syria.

"Whenever American air power has been
employed, in coordination with reliable partners on the ground, ISIL has been
devastated. It's a tactic that should be aggressively pursued both in Syria and
Iraq," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican voice on foreign
policy, using an acronym for the Sunni militant group.

The US military announced its latest air strike on
Islamic State forces, saying US aircraft on Monday destroyed or damaged 16 of
the group's armed vehicles near the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq.

Sotloff's colleagues described him as a dedicated
journalist and gifted writer who had filed in-depth reports from across the
Middle East. He covered unrest in Libya for Time magazine in 2012 before his
kidnapping in Syria.

Time Editor Nancy Gibbs said that Sotloff
"gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of
the most dangerous places in the world."

Filmmaker Matthew VanDyke, a friend of both Steven
Sotloff and James Foley, said the two were aware of the dangers in Syria, but
their passion to tell the story drove them to accept the peril.

"They believed that the story needed to be
told and they weren't going to let the risks stop them," VanDyke said.
"They took precautions and unfortunately even if you do everything right,
sometimes in Syria, things go wrong."

On August 24, Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front militants
in Syria freed an American writer, Peter Theo Curtis, who had been missing
since 2012, following what officials said were efforts by the Gulf Arab state
of Qatar to secure his release.

A US government source told Reuters that a criminal
probe by the Justice Department into Foley's killing was certain to be extended
to include Sotloff.

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