A gruesome video released Tuesday appears to show an Islamist fighter beheading a U.S. freelance photographer who was kidnapped in Syria nearly two years ago.
The video, posted by the media arm of the Islamic State and titled "A Message to America," says James Wright Foley was executed "in Iraq" as a result of President Obama's decision to bomb Islamic State fighters battling Kurdish forces north of Baghdad.
The video, in Arabic with English narration, concludes with another missing U.S. journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, of Miami, and tells Obama his life "depends on your next decision."
The video's authenticity has not been verified independently. But a federal law enforcement official, who is not authorized to speak publicly, said U.S. investigators were still examining the video, but "nothing appears to contradict'' that the victim is Foley.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the intelligence community is working "as quickly as possible" to determine its authenticity.
"If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends," she said.
Foley, who worked for several news outlets, including GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse, was kidnapped Thanksgiving Day 2012 while leaving an Internet cafe in Binesh, in northern Syria. He is one of an estimated 30 journalists missing in that country's nearly three-year-old civil war.
The four-minute, 40-second video opens with footage of Obama's Aug. 7 news conference announcing targeted airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel and thousands of Christian Yazidis trapped on a mountain.
The screen then shows a black-clad and masked militant standing next to a shaved-head man, who is kneeling in the desert dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with his hands behind his back.
The captive then delivers a statement, which appears to be scripted, in which he criticizes U.S. policy in Iraq and says he is being killed because of the airstrikes on Islamist State fighters.
"My message to my beloved parents: save me some dignity and don't accept any meager compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hammered the last nail in my coffin with their recent aerial campaign in Iraq." he said.
He then addresses his brother, John, who he said is in the U.S. Air Force, asking him to "think about what you are doing," saying the decision to bomb "signed my death warrant."
The Islamic State militant then speaks.
"Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights to live in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,"he said, pointing his knife at the camera.
He then steps around behind Foley, pulls his neck back and begins to cut his throat. The screen fades to black amid a gurgling sound.
The image fades back in a few seconds later and shows the bloody head resting on the man's back, with his hands in metal cuffs. The knife lies in the sand beside a pool of blood.
In a statement on its Facebook page, Foley's family said, "We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers."
The family had created a website that appealed for his release.
The founder and CEO of Boston-based GlobalPost, Philip Balboni, said on behalf of Foley's parents and the news organization that "we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim's possible execution first broke."
He added that GlobalPost would not comment further until the FBI confirms the video's authenticity.
"We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family," Balboni said.
Sotloff is believed to have been freelancing for Time in Egypt when he was abducted. He last tweeted on Aug. 3, 2013, with a comment about Miami Heat basketball player Greg Ogden. A few days earlier in a tweet, he noted that he had been pepper-sprayed at a protest in Antakya, Turkey.
News of the video was first reported by Zaid Benjamin, a reporter with Radio Sawa, a U.S.-funded Arabic-language radio station. After several tweets, which include images and a link to the Islamic State video, Twitter suspended Benjamin's account.
Twitter also suspended an account belonging to the Islamists' media arm, the latest IS social media site to be shut down.
As a result, the BBC reports, IS has opened several accounts on Diaspora, a community-run, decentralized social network.