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Obama: James Foley Execution 'Shocks The Conscience Of An Entire World'

EDGARTOWN (CBS/AP) – An angry President Obama said Wednesday that the execution of N.H. journalist James Foley by Islamic militants "shocks the conscience of an entire world." The White House also revealed Wednesday that the U.S. had launched a secret rescue mission inside Syria earlier this summer that failed to rescue Foley and other Americans still being held hostage.

The president said he spoke to Foley's parents by phone before his nationally televised address from Martha's Vineyard and told them "we are all heartbroken at their loss."

A grisly video released Tuesday shows Islamic State militants beheading Foley.

James Foley
A photo taken on September 29, 2011 shows James Foley resting in a room at the airport of Sirte, Libya. (Photo credit: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Islamic extremists called the execution retribution for recent U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. The militants have threatened to kill another captive they also identified as an American journalist.

The secret mission to rescue the U.S. hostages involved several dozen special operations forces dropped by aircraft into Syria. The hostages weren't found, but special forces engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants before departing, according to administration officials. Several militants were killed, and one American sustained minor injuries.

"The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens," Lisa Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present."

Watch President Obama's statement:

From Martha's Vineyard, President Obama said that the 40-year-old N.H. native's life "stands in stark contrast to his killers."

"He lived his work and courageously told stories of fellow human beings," the president said.

"The future is shaped by people like James Foley."

Obama said the United States will be "relentless" in the pursuit of Foley's killers

"When people harm Americans anywhere we do whatever we can to see that justice is done," he said.

The president called on other countries to join efforts against the Islamic State in "a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread."

He said the group "speaks for no religion. No faith teaches people to massacre innocents."

The president called the militants' ideology "bankrupt" and not of "any value to human beings."

Obama ended his terse comments saying, "may God bless and keep Jim's memory and may God bless the United States of America."

President Obama
President Barack Obama makes a statement on the death of James Foley at Martha's Vineyard, August 20, 2014. (Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

As the president made his remarks, Foley's parents talked to reporters on the front lawn of their home in Rochester, N.H.

In compelling and dignified comments to reporters,  Diane and John Foley said they want their son to be remembered as a dedicated and passionate American.

The Foleys, who spoke to the media for almost an hour, said they are also expecting a call from Pope Francis.

"We thank God for the gift of Jim. We are so, so proud of him," Diane Foley said.

"So many people were praying for Jim," she said, adding that they pray their son's values help bring the country together in a stronger way.

John Foley said their son was "driven by the suffering of the children" in his reporting from Syria.

"He was a courageous, fearless journalist. The best of America," the Foleys said of their son.

The Foleys said their message to the people behind his death is: We beg compassion and mercy for the other captives.

"How do you make sense of someone as good as Jim meeting such a fate?" Diane Foley said.

She said some of his three siblings were "mad" when he decided to go back, but he "felt compelled."

Watch Foley family statement

Foley's brother Michael said, "there was a lot of value in what he was doing."

Diane and John Foley said their son wouldn't consider himself a hero but would say he was just doing his job.

John Foley likened his son's return to Syria after being taken captive once before to firefighters who go back into a burning building.

"He was not crazy. He was motivated by doing the right thing," he said.

The Foleys said they did not learn of their son's death directly. "We found out like everyone else," Diane Foley said.

"We believe he was a martyr for freedom," John Foley said.

"He was courageous to the end," he said.

"It's not difficult to find solace," John Foley said. "We know he is in God's hands."

He said it is now up to others to "pick up the gauntlet" and carry on their son's work.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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