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FBI director calls Islamic terror group behind journalist slaying 'savages'

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DENVER - Islamic State extremists who executed journalist James Foley are "savages" who must be brought to justice, said FBI Director James Comey, whose agents are directly involved in the investigation into the killing.

Comey said his agency had been investigating Foley's kidnapping for two years until Tuesday, when the militants released a video showing his beheading in Syria. They also threatened to kill a second hostage, Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq continued.

"These savages have turned it into a homicide investigation," Comey said, speaking to reporters during a visit to the FBI's Denver field office. "I'm highly confident the U.S. government will bring justice to these people. We are very patient and dogged, and we will never forget."

Comey wouldn't say whether authorities have determined when the video of Foley's killing was taken. But he said it underscores the urgent danger posed by the extremists in Syria, which he said has become a "safe haven and training ground" for terrorists from Western Europe, North America and elsewhere.

"Their going there is very worrisome. They will come out with the worst kind of relationships and the worst kind of training," Comey said. Of the Islamic State extremists, he added, "We're up against savages. These are people who make ordinary terrorists look civilized."

Comey said he is concerned about homegrown "lone-wolf" terrorists who radicalize by using the Internet to connect with others interested in waging jihad. But he doesn't think the Foley video will add to the problem. News outlets, YouTube and other websites have been largely sensitive and responsible with the footage, he said.

Those who want to join Islamic extremists fighting in Syria have plenty of other places to find inspiration while "in their pyjamas, in their basements," Comey said.

But partnerships with local law enforcement can help thwart those who wish to help foreign terrorist groups, he said. In April, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested a 19-year-old suburban Denver woman at Denver International Airport as she boarded the first leg of a flight that she hoped would ultimately get her to Syria. Authorities have said Shannon Conley was intent on waging jihad despite FBI agents' overt and repeated efforts to stop her.

Flanked by police and prosecutors, Comey wouldn't talk about the Conley case but said it is important for police to separate those with intent from those who are all talk.

Comey, who was sworn in in September, spent Wednesday with local police from Wyoming and Denver as part of his tour of the agency's 56 field offices. Along with counterterrorism, he said civil rights investigations such as the one unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, and fighting human sex-trafficking remain top priorities for the FBI.

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Find Sadie Gurman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/sgurman

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