UPDATE: Obama confirms American photojournalist was beheaded
James Wright Foley. AP photo
UPDATE: President Barack Obama said Wednesday that “the entire world is appalled” by the beheading of James Foley, an American journalist, by the Islamist militant group ISIS.
He said that he had spoken to Foley's parents and told them that “we are all heartbroken.”
LONDON (NBC News) - Intelligence officials were poring over a video purporting to show the beheading of an American journalist in Syria on Wednesday, urgently seeking confirmation of James Foley's fate as well as clues about the identity of his executioner.
The graphic video shows Foley reciting threats against America before he is killed by an Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militant. The voice narrating the video speaks fluent English and the U.K.'s foreign secretary suggested he might be British - a troubling but not altogether surprising development. Western officials have been sounding alarm bells for months over the flood of foreign fighters taking up arms in Syria and Iraq.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his summer vacation to return to London and chair urgent meetings on the threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, calling the video “shocking and depraved.” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the video appears to be genuine, adding that intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic were working to identify the voice on the tape.
“W are very concerned by the apparent fact that the murderer in question is British,” Hammond told NBC News partner ITV News. "We are urgently investigating."
Cameron recently said there are more than 400 U.K. nationals in the ranks of ISIS, and Hammond on Wednesday said the video underscored concerns about the threat ISIS fighters pose to the West.
"This is something we have been tracking and dealing with for many, many months and I don't think this video changes anything,” Hammond told the BBC. "It just heightens awareness of a situation which is very grave and which we've been working on for many months."
Foley, a freelance journalist for NBC News partner GlobalPost, was kidnapped at gunpoint near the town of Taftanaz in northern Syria on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. He had not been heard from during his time in captivity. A native of Rochester, New Hampshire, Foley traveled extensively in the Middle East and North Africa. He reported about conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, where he was once held captive for 44 days.
Last week, British police said they were looking into pro-ISIS leaflets reportedly distributed in central London which encourage Muslims to pledge allegiance to the Sunni militants.
And earlier this month, an ISIS propaganda video featuring an alleged American citizen was released online.