Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the recent executions of U.S. journalists by the Islamic State show that the terrorist group is “evil,” and vowed that the U.S. would bring to justice those who participated in the executions.
“Barbarity, sadly, is not new to our world,” Kerry said in Washington. “Neither is evil, and I can’t think of a more graphic description of evil than what we witnessed yesterday and before that with James Foley, and what we see in the unbelievably brutal mass executions of people because of their sectarian or religious affiliation.”
“We have taken the fight to this kind of savagery and evil before, and believe me, we will take it again,” he said.
Kerry’s remarks, however, focused much more on the idea of bringing the killers of journalists Steve Sotloff and Foley to justice, as oppose to a military invasion aimed at defeating the Islamic State.
“When terrorists anywhere around the world have murdered our citizens, the United States held them accountable, no matter how long it took,” he said. “And those who have murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria need to know that the United States will hold them accountable too, no matter how long it takes.”
Kerry called the executions a “punch to the gut,” and said the government had tried using every military, diplomatic and intelligence tool at its disposal to rescue Sotloff.
“We saw him brutally taken from us in an act of medieval savagery by a coward hiding behind a mask,” he said.
Since video of Foley’s death surfaced last week, officials have warned that they would bring his killers to justice, but have been silent on exactly how they would accomplish that goal. Officials have not ruled out the possibility of the use of special forces to enter Syria and detain those suspected in the killing of the two reporters.
Kerry did not specifically discuss the idea of using military forces in Syria, a question that the Obama administration still seems to be struggling to answer.
Earlier in the day Obama delivered remarks that seemed to leave more room for doubt about what his administration plans to do about the growing threat posed by the group. For example, Obama at one point said the U.S. needs to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State.
But later, he said the goal of the U.S. is to “shrink” the group’s influence “to the point where it is a manageable problem.”
Kerry spoke in a ceremony to welcome Shaarik Zafar, State’s special representative to Muslim communities.
“Let me be really clear,” Kerry said as he introduced Zafar. “The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murderers.”
“The face of Islam is not the nihilists who only know how to destroy, not to build,” he added. “It’s not masked cowards whose actions are an ugly insult to the peaceful religion that they violate every single day with their barbarity and whose fundamental principles they insult with their actions.”
Zafar said that among his many goals at State is to counter the efforts of violent extremist Muslims to recruit and radicalize people around the world. He also offered his personal condolences to the families of Foley and Sotloff.