President Obama confirmed at a press conference in Estonia today that journalist Steven Sotloff had been beheaded by ISIS, noting “overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence.”
The video showing the beheading — and the executioner taunting Obama — surfaced early Tuesday afternoon. Obama flew to Estonia in the evening without commenting on the killing.
“I want to say that today the prayers of the American people are with the family of a devoted and courageous journalist, Steven Sotloff,” Obama said at the end of remarks about Ukraine and Russia. “…We cannot even begin to imagine the agony that everyone who loved Steven is feeling right now, especially his mother, his father and his younger sister. So today, our country grieves with them.”
“Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who have murdered him so brutally,” the president continued. “They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world. His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East, risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.”
Sotloff covered Arab Spring countries, from Bahrain to Egypt to Syria. He also covered the aftermath of the Benghazi consulate attacks, including interviewing guards on duty that night who confirmed there was no protest and detailed the militant attack.
Obama added that “whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed.”
“They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism,” he said. “We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”
Obama was asked what his response will be now that a second American has been beheaded by ISIS.
“Well, keep in mind that from the outset, the moment that ISIS went into Mosul, we were very clear that this was a very serious threat not just to Iraq but to the region and to U.S. interests. And so we’ve been putting forward a strategy since that time that was designed to do a number of things. Number one, to make sure that Americans were protected in Iraq, in our embassies, in our consulates. Number two, that we worked with Iraqis to create a functioning government that was inclusive and that could serve as the basis for Iraq to begin to go on the offensive,” he replied.
“And the airstrikes that we’ve conducted in support of protecting Americans conducting humanitarian missions and providing space for the Iraqi government to form have borne fruit. We’ve seen that in Sinjar Mountain. We’ve seen it most recently in the town of Amerli, which heroically held out against a siege by ISIL. We’re seeing progress in the formation of an inclusive Sunni-Shia-Kurd central government. And so what we’ve seen is the strategy that we’ve laid out moving effectively.”
He was put on the spot about whether the administration will now have a comprehensive strategy.
“Last week when this question was asked, I was specifically referring to the possibility of the military strategy inside of Syria that might require congressional approval,” Obama said, referring to his response at a previous press conference that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for airstrikes on ISIS.
“Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region. And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort. As we’ve seen with al-Qaeda, there are always going to be remnants that can cause havoc of any of these networks, in part because of the nature of terrorist activities. You get a few individuals, and they may be able to carry out a terrorist act,” he continued.
“But what we can do is to make sure that the kind of systemic and broad-based aggression that we’ve seen out of ISIL that terrorizes primarily Muslims, Shia, Sunni — terrorizes Kurds, terrorizes not just Iraqis, but people throughout the region, that that is degraded to the point where it is no longer the kind of factor that we’ve seen it being over the last several months.”