The ISIS threat

The ISIS threat

The terror group operating in Iraq and Syria is more than willing to show how ruthless it is.

The beheading of a photojournalist held captive by a Middle Eastern terror group serves as another grim reminder of the murderous intentions and severe danger posed to Americans at home and abroad.

President Barack Obama spoke for all Americans when he condemned not just the murder of photojournalist James Foley by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but the wholesale slaughter ISIS is carrying out in its conquered territory.

"They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocents, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery," said Obama, who described ISIS as a "cancer" that must be expelled from the Middle East.

The president said the United States will be "relentless" and "vigilant" in pursuing those who pose a threat to this country's interests, although it is unclear just what specific actions he is contemplating. It could be increased bombing of ISIS positions in Iraq. This country already has joined a coalition of Kurdish and Iraqi troops, providing air cover while ground forces engage ISIS. At the same time, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that he considers Foley's death to be a criminal matter to be addressed by prosecution in American courts.

Obama's action so far is more promising that Holder's pledge. While certainly criminal in the macro-sense of the word, it's hard to see how the ISIS activities can be perceived as anything other than an act of war. The notion of tracking down, arresting and criminally charging Foley's killer falls dramatically short of an appropriate response to the military threat ISIS poses.

The murder of Foley — videotaped for all the world to see — follows months of efforts by ISIS to secure a $100 million ransom for his release.

These terror groups have turned kidnapping into a big business, collecting more than $100 million so far for the return of Europeans over the past five years, according to news reports. A U.S. State Department spokesman reiterated last week that this country does not negotiate with terrorists, a stance that obviously contributed to ISIS's decision to use Foley for other purposes.

The stated explanation for Foley's murder is that it represents retaliation by ISIS for U.S. airstrikes. At the same time, it's impossible to underestimate the shock value and recruiting importance the video represents to the would-be jihadists ISIS would like to recruit.

In that context, it's worth noting that Foley's killer spoke with a British accent. He may well be a British citizen who left a civilized country to return to the Middle East and participate in a barbaric religious war. Such is the nature of religious fanaticism that revels in death and cruelty in pursuit of a new prehistoric vision of the world.

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