WASHINGTON — As the news of Miami journalist Steve Sotloff’s beheading at the hands of ISIS terrorists circulated this afternoon, lawmakers quickly stressed that President Obama needs to come up with a plan now to fight and defeat the Islamic State.
And they’re putting forward their own solutions, from strikes to targeting funding sources to making sure America is on high alert for an attack nine days out from the 9/11 anniversary.
The beheadings of both Sotloff and New Hampshire journalist James Foley happened over the congressional summer recess, when lawmakers are scattered far and wide. Reaction to the hits on Americans by ISIS promises to be heated when Congress comes back into session next week.
The Republican chairman and Democratic ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were in Jerusalem together to highlight the threat posed by Hamas when the news of Sotloff’s murder broke.
“This is awful, and this is exactly the reason why we have to go after ISIS, why we cannot just let them wreak havoc there. They are killers. They are brutal,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told CNN. “You know, the executioner is a coward because he wears a cover from head to toe so you can’t see what his face looks like. So he’s really just a coward. And these are the types of people — it’s why ISIS is a threat to the entire world, and why we just simply cannot ignore them. We’ve got to defeat them.”
Engel filed a bill about a year and a half ago to aid the Free Syrian Army in its fight against ISIS and Bashar Assad.
“I think it was a mistake not to do it. But I think that ISIS is obviously across the border, into Syria and into Iraq, and they really have to be defeated,” the Democratic ranking member said. “I would still hope, though, that we could try to aid the Free Syrian Army, because they’re the only people in Syria — Assad’s regime is no good — they’re the only people in Syria that want to see democracy to that poor beleaguered country. ”
Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he and Engel are on the same page.
“We remember the thousands of Christians and other religious minorities who have also been decapitated or crucified, massacred by ISIS, as they’ve rolled across Syria and rolled across Iraq, all the way up to Kurdistan. It is chilling that this type of madness is now part of their operation as they take cities across the area,” Royce said.
“Target them and target the terrorist training camps where they’re bringing thousands of fighters from around the world, putting them through training over a period of weeks to teach them how to conduct terrorist activities. Those camps and the munitions should be targeted as well.”
Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, told CNN International the Sotloff video is “just a reminder of the barbarism of this organization” and added that “President Obama has shown that when organizations do these types of things to American citizens, they do not go unanswered.”
McGurk said there are “different elements” in how the administration will “combat” ISIS from cutting its financing to “delegitimizing this organization in every aspect.”
“We are increasingly confident that Sunni tribal leaders are sick and tired of ISIS. They want them out of their areas, but the truth of the matter is that ISIS rules by such ruthless barbarism that they’re able to rule by fear and intimidation,” he said.
“We’re going to work with the Iraqis to degrade ISIS’ military capacity which will allow the tribal leaders to begin to control their own areas and kick ISIS out.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he’ll see the video of his constituent’s beheading next week when Senate security committees convene.
“But you don’t have to see a video to know that the United States is the only one that can put together a coalition to go after this outfit that is so intent on barbaric cruelty,” Nelson to MSNBC.
“We’re going to have to join with the Free Syrian Army, who not only started out fighting President Assad’s regime in Syria, but they’re fighting on two fronts now. They’re fighting ISIS. And so, we’re going to have to put together the coalition that goes after this outfit, because it’s very clear they’re coming after us.”
Sotloff’s other home-state senator, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in a statement called his constituent “a man of enormous courage and decency.”
“Through his journalism, he demonstrated deep personal compassion toward the Middle East and its people. He hoped to shine a light on both the good and the bad of the region – to show the world the dramatic potential of its people as well as the stark forces of evil holding them back,” Rubio said, adding that his office has been in touch with the family “throughout their ordeal.”
“Steven’s balanced and earnest approach to journalism was met with love by many in the Middle East, but with brutal disdain by those whose tactics stood in such clear contrast to his own. Through Steven’s execution, ISIL has demonstrated yet again its limitless capacity for cruelty and its unbridled hatred of freedom-loving people everywhere. ISIL continues to establish that its violent grasp for regional control represents a threat to the American people, our allies, and the principles of freedom and human rights that we cherish,” he continued.
“The horrifying clarity of ISIL’s message toward America should have been met from the beginning with an equally clear opposing message,” Rubio said. “ISIL is now the best funded terrorist group ever established and has large areas of territory under their control.”
“There is no disease that becomes easier to treat the longer you wait, and as history has shown time and again, it is the same with malignant forces in global affairs. If we do not act now to assist our Iraqi partners and moderate Syrians who oppose ISIL, as well as utilize our own forces to directly target ISIL’s leadership, the result will be more suffering and tragedy for our people.”
The Sotloffs’ congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has been working on the family’s behalf, said in a statement that the “atrocious and brutal act shows that ISIL’s cruelty knows no bounds and that it has no respect for human life.”
“I cannot imagine coping with the pain Shirley and Art must be feeling right now as they lose a son due to a savage terrorist organization and my heart and prayers go out to their entire family,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Another Florida congressman, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), stressed in a statement that “it is clear that ISIS presents a direct threat to the lives of innocent Americans, as well as peace and stability in the region.”
“The United States will not tolerate these heinous acts on its citizens,” Hastings added.
“What the president as well as our government must do is to continue with an enduring determination to go after the Islamic State and to destroy it, and that’s going to continue some time but I think we can do that and I think we must do it,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told CNN.
Casey and Rubio sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week urging the State Department to “employ all available tools to curtail” the black-market fundraising activities of ISIS “and disrupt its financial networks.”
“What they are, in addition to being an army in a sense and a terrorist organization, they’re also an international criminal organization,” Casey said. “They should be so labeled as a so-called TOC, transnational criminal organization.”
Kerry made remarks this afternoon with Panama Vice President Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, but did not respond to requests to comment on Sotloff. “I’m going to be making some comments either later or tomorrow on that,” Kerry said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement that condemnation from the administration needs to turn into concrete action.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Mr. Sotloff and all those who have suffered under ISIL’s barbaric behavior,” Graham said.
“However, condemnation is not enough to deal with this scourge. It is time we act decisively against ISIL wherever it resides. 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,” he said.
“Mr. President, if you can’t come up with a strategy, at least tell us what the goal is regarding ISIL.”
Obama had no comment on Sotloff today as he flew to Estonia.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said lawmakers have been told in briefings that an estimated 100 to 200 Americans are fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“It’s the fact that we have Americans and those with travel documents that can come back to the United States and perpetrate an act of terrorism. And that’s — we’re on a, really, a high state of alert right now,” McCaul said.
“We don’t have precise intelligence on the ground to determine who — which al-Qaeda faction they’re working for or fighting with. But the fact is, those numbers are very alarming to me and they should concern the American people.”