James Foley killing: ISIS remains 'long-term threat,' Chuck Hagel says

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the militant group ISIS remains a "long-term threat" after the killing of U.S. reporter James Foley, adding his voice to the growing international call for greater action against ISIS.

World leaders warn of global threat posed by ISIS

9 years ago
Duration 2:54
Gruesome killing of American journalist James Foley is galvanizing international anger against ISIS extremists

The killing of an American reporter is galvanizing international anger at ISIS extremists and fuelling fears about the flow of foreign fighters joining their ranks. But governments from the Mideast to Europe and even Washington appear uncertain about how to stop them.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the worsening security situation in Iraq and the role of ISIS in the killing of James Foley Thursday, soon after the international police agency Interpol called for a globally coordinated push to stem the tide of international fighters joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group that has swallowed up territory in both countries.

Hagel said he was "very clear-eyed" about the challenges that lie ahead, even after U.S. airstrikes helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain their footing and recapture the Mosul Dam this week that had been under ISIS control.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, he said ISIS poses a "long-term threat" and is expected to regroup and stage a new offensive.

"We continue to explore all options regarding [ISIS]," he said, and did not rule out military airstrikes across the Iraqi border into Syria.

However, Hagel cautioned that airstrikes alone will not lead to the militant group's defeat, adding that the U.S. government is assisting "moderate opposition" to ISIS, including the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. 
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. government is looking to assist "moderate opposition," such as the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, in combating militant group ISIS. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Ultimately, he noted, combating the militant group will require political reform in Iraq, in order to make it harder for ISIS to exploit sectarian divisions.

Up to now, actions against them have been decided largely at a national level. The U.S. sent in forces and airstrikes. Some European countries are sending weapons to those opposing ISIS fighters. Some Mideast countries are tightening their borders.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Moussawi expressed hope that the international attention could produce a consensus on what to do next.

"The world must unite to eradicate this organization and those alike. It is supported by countries, organizations and individuals and it cannot be eliminated unless we fight this extremism in all possible ways," he said.

'A heinous crime'

Hagel, when asked if the hardline Sunni Muslim organization posed a threat to the United States comparable to that of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said it was "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen."

"They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of ... military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen."

One thorny question is how to cut off funding for the ISIS fighters. Some accuse Qatar of being among their financial backers, which the government denies. Qatar's Foreign Ministry on Thursday condemned Foley's killing, saying it was "a heinous crime that goes against all Islamic and humanitarian principles, as well as international laws and conventions."

Interpol didn't give any specific recommendations but is particularly concerned that a man who appears in a video of journalist James Foley's death may be British.
Journalist James Foley receives applause from students at a school in Framingham, Mass., in 2011. Interpol is particularly concerned that a man who appears in a video of journalist James Foley's death may be British. (Ken McGagh/MetroWest Daily News/Associated Press)

"(This highlights) the need for a multilateral response against the terror threat posed by radicalized transnational fighters travelling to conflict zones," said Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble.

More than a thousand radicals from Europe have joined militant fighters in Syria and Iraq, and Interpol has long warned of the threat such fighters pose. European governments worry those radicals could stage attacks when they get home and have introduced new anti-terrorism measures to try to catch them or stop them from leaving in the first place.

French President Francois Hollande urged other countries to wake up to the threat of the group.

"It's not simply a terrorist group like those, alas, we have already known — dispersed, scattered, with several chiefs. This is a terrorist enterprise that has decided to enslave, annihilate, destroy," he said Thursday.

France, which has seen an unusually large number of its citizens travel to fight with ISIS, was the first European country to send arms to Iraq and has pushed its European counterparts to do more.

'More needs to be done'

Within Europe, any concerted action in Iraq is complicated by uncomfortable memories of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I don't expect the Europeans to put boots on the ground, but more needs to be done," said Amanda Paul, a policy analyst at Brussels-based think-tank European Policy Center.

"The EU should have a more co-ordinated approach on who's doing what," Paul said. "They can't just rely on the United States. (President Barack) Obama is already thinly spread and Americans are tired of war."

There were no immediate signs of a shift in British policy in the wake of Foley's slaying. Britain has already said its mission in Iraq has moved beyond the humanitarian phase and includes Royal Air Force reconnaissance patrols. Britain has also said it is willing to arm Kurdish troops fighting the Sunni insurgents.

Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the "brutal and barbaric" killing of Foley but said Britain would not take any "knee-jerk" action.

"I have been very clear that this country is not going to get involved in another Iraq war. We are not putting combat troops, combat boots on the ground," he said.

Germany announced it is sending arms to Kurds fighting the extremists and said Foley's death played a role in the decision, which it had been considering for weeks. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin the video of Foley "shows the barbaric and completely merciless murder of a human being."

With files from CBC News