James Foley in Aleppo, Syria, in September 2012. Manu Brabo/freejamesfoley.org/AP
Extremist group the Islamic State claims to have executed American journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria in 2012. The FBI is evaluating a video that was posted online Tuesday, purporting to show Foley’s beheading.
That video was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday afternoon and later removed. The images show a man resembling Foley kneeling next to a masked militant, reciting comments against the U.S. before being killed.
U.S. officials tell the Associated Press that Islamic State had recently threatened to kill Foley to avenge U.S. airstrikes that have helped Iraqi forces regain key sites, including the Mosul dam.
The Islamic State also says it’s holding another American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, who went missing in Syria last year, and that Sotloff could be the next victim.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden says U.S. officials are studying the video to determine whether it’s genuine:
“We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIL. The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available.”
Foley has been missing since November of 2012, when he was kidnapped while reporting in Syria for the news organization GlobalPost. A Facebook page was later created to call for his return; last night, it posted this statement from Foley’s mother, Diane:
“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.
“We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.
“We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”
GlobalPost notes that, “The Foley family has not received confirmation of Jim’s death from the U.S. government, and acknowledged that there is still a small chance the video of his apparent killing will prove to have been fake.”
The company’s CEO and co-founder, Philip Balboni, says GlobalPost had been working to learn who kidnapped Foley, and where he was being held captive.
“Although GlobalPost’s investigation at one point led us to believe that James was being held by the Syrian government, we later were given strong reason to believe he was being held by Islamic militants in Syria,” Balboni said. “We withheld this information at the request of the family and on the advice of authorities cooperating in the effort to protect Jim. GlobalPost, working with a private security company, has amassed an enormous amount of information that has not been made public.”
Foley was on a freelance assignment for GlobalPost when he was abducted in northern Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. He had been making his way to the Turkish border when he was stopped by a group of armed men, the organization says.
Back in 2011, Foley was one of three journalists who were held captive for more than a month after being attacked by Gaddafi fighters near Benghazi. A fourth journalist didn’t survive the attack.
Their ordeal led Foley and one of his colleagues, American Claire Gillis, to visit NPR’s Talk of the Nation back in 2011. Discussing the uncertain weeks of their captivity, Foley said they “turned to a lot of prayer” and exercise. In the end, he was the last of the journalists to be released, after spending a week as the sole Westerner in the prison.
“I started to have some dark thoughts,” he said. “I started to think, you know, maybe they’re keeping the American guy as the ace in the hole… I thought maybe I was going to be a bargaining chip.”