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Islamist Militants Use Beheading Video To Push Its Agenda


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea.


And I'm David Greene. A video showing the beheading of a second American journalist has now been verified. That's according to the White House.

GONYEA: Speaking in Estonia this morning, President Obama said he is repulsed by the killing of Steven Sotloff and vowed that justice will be served.

GREENE: In this new video, a masked figure speaking in a British accent says the killing is a response to U.S. airstrikes targeting militants who call themselves the Islamic State, or ISIS.

GONYEA: This comes two weeks after another video showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley and a week after Sotloff's mother publicly pleaded for his life.

GREENE: Joining us now is NPR's Deborah Amos, who's been covering this story. She's in Istanbul. Deb, good morning.


GREENE: So this video, all too familiar after what we saw with James Foley's death. I mean, what is this group, ISIS, trying to do here?

AMOS: Well, it is a similar strategy with the Foley video. Its horror-ism, as one British writer put it. The theatrics are the same. Sotloff appears in an orange jumpsuit, and that's a symbol of the uniforms at Guantanamo. A masked figure speaks English. He says, I'm back. And it seems to be the same speaker in the Foley video. There's a title, "The Second Message To The Americans." The timing follows a holiday weekend in the U.S. But here in the region, it looks a little different because it comes as the militants were pushed out of a town in Iraq called Amirli. It's been besieged for two months. So their credibility is on the line. This latest video seems to be aimed maybe at their core followers of the Islamic State to say, we're still strong. We can still exact revenge at a moment that, actually, they have been wounded.

GREENE: Aimed at their followers. And also, you're saying - I mean, maybe they're planning the timing around where they want maximum effect for an audience in the United States - because they planned it right after a holiday weekend, as people were just coming back to work and tuning back in.

AMOS: They are strategic enough to make that kind of decision. What they're doing is they're leveraging their assets. The fight has been joined by Iraqi forces, by Kurds in northern Iraq, by the U.S. and also the Iranians. There are reports of Iranian military advisers on the ground in Amirli. Last week, ISIS militants beheaded a captured Lebanese soldier after the Lebanese army pushed them out of a border town. These videos are horrific, but they don't change the policy towards this group - not in Lebanon, not in the U.S.

GREENE: You say this coalition is growing and seeing some success. Is that going to continue to widen, and is there a chance that they can really, you know, make some serious gains in fighting this group?

AMOS: All the members of the coalition are under enormous pressure to widen this war against ISIS, to bring the fight to Syria. That's where they have a safe haven, and it's likely that that is the site of the beheadings. You know, there's an irony here for the journalists who were captured, both James Foley and Steven Sotloff. They were drawn to the Syrian conflict. They wanted to report the brutality of the war. These ISIS militants were also drawn to Syria for different reasons. They're rooted there because of the chaos in Syria. It's going to take a long time to root them out. And this coalition has to build to be able to do it strategically.

GREENE: And, Deb, we should mention here, in this new video there appears to be at least another hostage who shows up in the video. It's reportedly a British citizen. Do we know anything about this hostage?

AMOS: That's right. It is apparently a British citizen. The British government is asking that his name not be released. They've known about this hostage for some time. There are emergency meetings in London today. Prime Minister David Cameron will be meeting with President Obama on Thursday at the NATO summit. And these beheadings and the strategy towards ISIS is likely to be at the top of that agenda.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking to NPR's Deborah Amos about a new video that appears to show the beheading of a second American citizen by the Islamic State, or ISIS. Deb, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.