by Dish Staff
ISIS released a video yesterday purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley and threatening to do the same to his colleague Steven Sotloff if the US does not immediately cease its air campaign against the militant group:
A propaganda video circulated on Tuesday showed a masked Isis fighter beheading a kneeling man dressed in an orange jumpsuit who is purported to be James Wright Foley, a photojournalist who went missing in Syria in 2012. The masked executioner spoke in English, with what sounded like a British accent, and said the slaying came in response to the air strikes ordered by President Barack Obama against Isis 12 days ago.
Isis, whose chief spokesman came under US state department sanctions on Monday, warned of further revenge – including on another man purported to be a captured US journalist, Steven Sotloff – and in the video the victim was made to read a statement blaming the US for his own murder. Foley has been missing in Syria since November 2012, where he went to report on the bloody struggle to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad. He was initially thought to have been captured by forces loyal to the Assad regime.
So how did he end up in the hands of ISIS? Christopher Dickey wonders:
In Syria, he was picked up by gunmen from what the Federal Bureau of Investigation called an “organized gang” shortly after he left an Internet café on November 22, 2012. In May 2013, GlobalPost President Philip Balboni said that “with a very high degree of confidence, we now believe that Jim was most likely abducted by a pro-regime militia group”—that is, one loyal to President Bashar Assad—and that he was being held near Damascus by the Syrian Air Force intelligence service. “Based on what we have learned,” said Balboni, “it is likely Jim is being held with one or more Western journalists, including most likely at least one other American.”
Several groups fighting against Assad have claimed that there is—or was—a tacit collaboration, at least, between his intelligence services and ISIS, since it served the savage Assad regime well to claim it was fighting a terrorist enemy even more brutal than its own forces.
Uri Friedman remarks that Foley, before his capture, was part of a dwindling cohort of journalists reporting directly from Syria:
“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” Foley’s mother posted on Facebook on Tuesday evening. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
That exposure is growing fainter by the day. Foley appears to have died while working in what is now the most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter—a country where dozens of journalists have been killed and kidnapped in recent years. As the Syrian conflict has grown more indiscriminately violent; as the Syrian government has targeted journalists, censored local news coverage, and barred foreign journalists from the country; as ever-stronger extremist groups have started seizing members of the press (and not even bothering to make demands for their release), news outlets around the world have pulled their staff from the country. Many Syrian journalists and citizen-journalists have been silenced.
Max Fisher knew him:
There will be many efforts in the coming days to derive meaning from Jim’s death. Some will say ISIS had him killed to punish the US for its recent air strikes against them in Iraq, some will say it was to egg the Americans on, and others will attribute it to simple madness. I would rather derive meaning from Jim’s life. As a journalist, I want to celebrate his dedication to truth and understanding. But that would sell him short. It is clear even just by secondhand accounts from the family that would do anything to help him, even when he insisted on returning to a war zone, and from the friends who were so enriched by knowing him, that Jim’s value was so much more.
Owen Jones is struck by the effectiveness of ISIS’s propaganda:
Everything about the video of Foley’s alleged murder was intended to chill. It is unlikely that Islamic State (Isis) selected an executor with a strong London accent for no reason. It was the Iraq war that first popularised the execution video but hearing the blood-curdling threats and dogma of Isis recited in tones that are all too familiar is itself a message.
Terrorism by definition aims to spread terror to achieve its political ends. One of the reasons Isis has outmanoeuvred its rivals is because it has embraced social media so effectively. By publicising its atrocities online, it tells would-be opponents what will happen if it is resisted, and this partly explains why so many have fled rather than confront Isis forces. The ruthless use of social media has proved instrumental in the toppling of entire cities. This operation is being gladly assisted by those in the west who portray Isis as a unique, undiluted evil that needs to be bombed out of existence, granting the militant group the mystique it clearly craves and relies on.
Shane Harris looks at how social media companies have tried to scrub references to the video:
Less than an hour after the video was first posted to YouTube, the company removed it. But the same video was soon posted by a different YouTube user, and it remained accessible for at least another half an hour. The company eventually removed the video from the user’s account, but it didn’t suspend the account itself, and within minutes, the user had posted it again. Twitter suspended the user’s account after he included a link to the video in his feed. …
But the social media companies are fighting a losing battle. They depend on users to flag offensive content or material that violates their terms of service — videos of murder undoubtedly do — but they don’t proactively police the photos, videos, and messages posted to their sites. The companies also have to determine whether posting violent rhetoric or messages constitutes promoting terrorists’ messages or is an act of free speech, and the distinction is not always clear.