Jihadists released a video apparently showing the beheading of an American journalist kidnapped in Syria, in the most direct retaliation yet to US air strikes against them in Iraq.
The video, in which the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group also threatens to kill another reporter if US air strikes in Iraq continue, sparked global outrage today.
Posted online late yesterday, it shows a masked militant beheading a man resembling James Foley, who has been missing since he was seized in Syria in November 2012.
News of Foley's apparent beheading comes as US air strikes appeared to yield some results, helping Kurdish and federal forces push IS fighters back from some recently-conquered areas in northern Iraq, including the strategic Mosul dam.
"We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Foley's mother Diane said in a Facebook message.
"We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."
The White House said US intelligence was studying the video, and that President Barack Obama had been briefed on it.
"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," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
Foley was an experienced correspondent who had covered the war in Libya before heading to Syria to follow the revolt against Bashar al-Assad's regime, contributing to news site GlobalPost, AFP and other media outlets.
According to witnesses, Foley was seized in the northern Syrian province of Idlib on November 22, 2012.
In the nearly five-minute video, titled "A Message to America," IS declares that Foley was killed because Obama ordered air strikes against IS in northern Iraq.
The beheading is carried out in an open desert area with no immediate signs as to whether it is in Iraq or Syria by a black-clad masked militant who speaks English with a British accent.
Foley is seen kneeling on the ground, dressed in an orange outfit that resembles those worn by prisoners held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
"Any aggression towards the Islamic State is an aggression towards Muslims from all walks of life who have accepted the Islamic caliphate as their leadership," the masked man said.
He threatens to kill another man shown in the video and said to be Steven Sotloff, whose kidnapping in August 2013 has not been widely reported.
France today slammed the apparent killing as "a barbaric act that plays on fear," while British premier David Cameron termed it "shocking and depraved" as he cut short a holiday.
Germany, denouncing the jihadists as "barbaric", said it would send arms to Iraqi Kurdish forces battling them.