A grisly video shows Islamic State militants beheading American journalist James Foley, US officials said, in what the extremists called retribution for recent American airstrikes in Iraq.
After the video was released yesterday, Foley's family separately confirmed his death in a statement posted on a Facebook page that was created to rally support for his release, saying they "have never been prouder of him".
"He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," said the statement, which was attributed to Foley's heartbroken mother, Diane Foley.
She implored the militants to spare the lives of other hostages. "Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."
The statement was posted on a Facebook page called "Find James Foley," which his family has used a number of times since his November 2012 disappearance.
Foley, a 40-year-old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost.
The car he was in was stopped by four militants in a contested battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control. He had not been heard from since.
The video released on websites yestyerday appears to show the increasing sophistication of the Islamic State group's media arm and begins with scenes of President Barack Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes.
It then cuts to a bald man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, next to a black-clad militant with a knife to his throat. Foley's name appears in both English and Arabic graphics on screen, and he is wearing a clip-on microphone as he begins his statement. The scene is captured on at least two video cameras and has been edited in a professional style.
After the captive speaks, the masked man is shown apparently beginning to cut at the neck of the captive; the video fades to black before the beheading is completed. The next shot appears to show the captive lying dead on the ground, his head on his body. The video appears to have been shot in an arid area. There is no vegetation to be seen and the horizon is in the distance where the sand meets the gray-blue sky. The sound quality is sharp.
At the end of the video, a militant shows a second man, who was identified as another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, and warns that he could be the next captive killed. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine.
One US official said the video appeared to be authentic, and two other US officials said the victim was Foley. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the killing by name.
One of the officials said Obama was expected to make a statement about the killing today.
The beheading marks the first time the Islamic State has killed an American citizen since the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011, upping the stakes in an increasingly chaotic and multi-layered war. If confirmed, the killing is likely to complicate US involvement in Iraq and the Obama administration's efforts to contain the group as it expands in both Iraq and Syria.
The group is the heir apparent of the militancy known as al-Qaida in Iraq, which beheaded many of its victims, including American businessman Nicholas Berg in 2004.
The Islamic State militant group is so ruthless in its attacks against all people they consider heretics or infidels that it has been disowned by al-Qaida's leaders.
In seeking to impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in the lands it is trying to control, the extremists have slain soldiers and civilians alike in horrifying killings - including mounting the decapitated heads of some of its victims on spikes.
In 2011, Foley was among a small group of journalists held captive for six weeks by the government in Libya and was released after receiving a one-year suspended sentence on charges of illegally entering the country.