Images of an ISIS parade in the Kirkuk Province
ISIS consolidating power in northern Iraq
03:39 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: The White House does not say whether air strikes are an option

NEW: "What's the Obama message?" a former national security official asks

Pope sends "urgent appeal" to end the crisis

Video shows militants force a Christian to convert to Islam, then behead him

CNN  — 

If you’re following the news about ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, you might think you’ve mistakenly clicked on a historical story about barbarians from millennia ago.

In a matter of months, the group seized territory in both Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic caliphate, celebrating its own shocking slaughter along the way.

“I don’t see any attention from the rest of the world,” a member of the Yazidi minority in Iraq told the New Yorker. “In one day, they killed more than two thousand Yazidi in Sinjar, and the whole world says, ‘Save Gaza, save Gaza.’”

In Syria, the group hoisted some of its victims severed heads on poles. One of the latest videos of the savagery shows a Christian man forced to his knees, surrounded by masked militants, identified in the video as members of ISIS. They force the man at gunpoint to “convert” to Islam. Then, the group beheads him.

ISIS has targeted members of numerous minority groups in the region, including Christian nuns, Turkmen and Shabaks, according to Human Rights Watch.

France called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country is “highly concerned about the latest progress of ISIS in the north of Iraq and by the taking of Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city of Iraq, and the horrible acts of violence that are committed.”

The United States is considering emergency air drops to help thousands of stranded Yazidis, a U.S. Defense official told CNN. The department also is weighing “other military options,” a senior State Department official said.

Asked about the possibility of U.S. airstrikes, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday he was “not in a position to rule things on the table or off the table.”

Earlier this week, ISIS fighters tried to seize control of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam, but Kurdish forces fended them off, the dam’s director said.

“If ‘IS’ manages to consolidate its territory and preserve its legitimacy, an offensive jihad against all other countries will then be considered viable,” Jonathan Russell of Qulliam, a think tank formed to combat extremism, wrote on

“Al Qaeda will now want to challenge ISIS’s appropriation of its key objectives and tactics. The only way for al Qaeda to stay relevant now is through a violent and spectacular attack. Although ISIS may eventually be a victim of its own success, the real victims will be the thousands of innocent Muslims and non-Muslims caught in the crossfire of this millennarian struggle.”

Pope leads call for action

As the tales of horror trickle out from areas ISIS controls – including Mosul, Iraq’s largest city – a growing chorus of voices is calling on the world to act. The most prominent is Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father follows with strong concern the dramatic news from the north of Iraq, concerning defenseless populations,” the Vatican said in a statement Thursday. “Particularly struck have been the Christian communities, a people fleeing from their own villages due to the violence that in these days is raging and overwhelming the region.”

“Dear brothers and sisters so persecuted, I know how much you are suffering and I know that everything has been taken from you. I am with you in faith, and with Him that has conquered evil,” the Pope said recently during the Angelus prayer.