President Barack Obama says the United States will not be intimidated by the beheading of a second American journalist, and vowed to build a coalition to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State extremist group.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Estonia, Obama said it will take time to "roll them back," or apply pressure to the group claiming responsibility for the murders of Steven Sotloff and James Foley. The video of Sotloff's beheading was released Tuesday and his identity was verified by U.S. officials within hours.
Obama said the killers have failed in whatever they are trying to achieve because the United States and the world are "repulsed by their barbarism" and 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."
Later, in New Hampshire, Vice President Joe Biden used blunt language concerning U.S. resolve to fight the Islamic State.
“If they think the American people will be intimidated, they don’t know us very well.”
“We will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside,” said Biden.
Kerry, Hagel denounce beheading
Speaking in Washington Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the murderers of James Foley and and Steven Sotloff should know that the United States will hold them accountable just as the United States has always held killers of U.S. citizens accountable. Kerry described the Sotloff beheading as "medieval savagery".
"The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathamable brutality of ISIL terrorist murders," he said during remarks at a ceremony to honor the appointment of Shaarik Zafar, who will head up the department's engagement with Muslim communities around the world.
Kerry said the U.S. government has been using every tool at its disposal to rescue captured Americans, like Sotloff.
“For so many who have worked so long to bring Steven and other Americans home safely, this is obviously was not how the story was meant to end. It is a punch in the gut," he said. “We need to reach beyond government to include religious leaders and faith communities, entrepreneurs, civil society groups, all of them working together to invest in a future that embraces tolerance and understanding, and yes, even love.”
Also Wednesday, speaking to CNN television, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the beheadings make him sick to his stomach.
He noted that more than 100 U.S. citizens are fighting with the militants in Iraq and Syria, and that the United States and its coalition partners have to do everything possible to stop Islamic State now.
Meanwhile, some U.S. lawmakers are calling for urgent action to fight the Islamic State with an international coalition targeting militants with drones, airstrikes and Kurdish fighters.
A statement early Wednesday from the National Security Council said U.S. intelligence agencies analyzed a video showing Sotloff's killing and judged it to be real. A spokesmen for Sotloff's relatives said the family is aware of the video and is grieving privately. The spokesman said the journalist was not a hero but someone who was a voice to those in the Arab world who have no voice. He said Sotloff sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world.
The extremist Islamic State group released the video Tuesday in which a black-masked militant with a British accent addresses Obama, saying Sotloff's death is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq. The killing apparently was carried out in a similar manner to the beheading last month of American journalist James Foley.
In a speech earlier Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the beheading and other "brutal killings" of civilians by the militants.
"This is totally unacceptable, such kind of inhuman, brutal crimes, which is a crime against humanity," said Ban. "Those perpetrators must be brought to justice. And this is the firm policy of the United Nations."
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Sotloff's murder "disgusting and despicable."
The militant speaking in the video also threatened the life of British hostage David Cawthorne Haines, who has been described as a security officer for aid agencies.
After the Foley killing, Steven Sotloff's mother, Shirley, appealed directly to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to free her son. She said he should not pay the price for U.S. policies in Iraq.
The United States has been conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in coordination with Iraq's government since early August.
Sotloff was taken captive in Syria in August 2013, about a year after Foley was abducted. He worked for Time and Foreign Policy magazines.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the U.S. will continue airstrikes to disrupt Islamic State's ability to put U.S. personnel and facilities at risk. He said the airstrikes also will support humanitarian aid to those persecuted by the extremists.
Pam Dockins contributed to this report from Washington; some material for this report was provided by Reuters.