IS Millitants Asked For Ransom Before Executing American Journalist

Kneeling in the dirt in a desert somewhere in the Middle East, James Foley lost his life this week at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Before pulling out the knife used to decapitate him, his masked executioner explained that he was killing the 40-year-old American journalist in retaliation for the recent United States’ airstrikes against the terror group in Iraq.

In fact, until recently, ISIS had a very different list of demands for Mr. Foley: The group pressed the United States to provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, according to a representative of his family and a former hostage held alongside him. The United States — unlike several European countries that have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens — refused to pay.

Sensitive to growing criticism that it had not done enough, the White House on Wednesday revealed that a United States Special Operations team tried and failed to rescue Mr. Foley — a New Hampshire native who disappeared in Syria on Nov. 22, 2012 — as well as the other American hostages during a secret mission this summer. Mr. Obama said the United States would not retreat until it had eliminated the “cancer” of ISIS from the Middle East.

ISIS also appears determined to increase the pressure on Washington. It has now threatened to kill a second of its hostages, Steven J. Sotloff, a freelance journalist for Time magazine who was being held alongside Mr. Foley.

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In the video uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, the screen goes dark after Mr. Foley is decapitated. Then the ISIS fighter is seen holding Mr. Sotloff in the same landscape of barren dunes, wearing an orange jumpsuit and his hands cuffed behind his back. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

Along with the three Americans, ISIS is holding citizens of Britain, which like the United States has declined to pay ransoms, former hostages confirmed. The terror group has sent a laundry list of demands for the release of the foreigners, starting with money but also prisoner swaps, including the liberation of Aafia Siddiqui, an M.I.T.-trained Pakistani neuroscientist with ties to Al Qaeda currently incarcerated in a prison in Texas. The policy of not making concessions to terrorists and not paying ransoms has put the United States and Britain at odds with other European allies, who have routinely paid significant sums to win the release of their nationals — including four French and three Spanish hostages who were released this year after money was delivered through an intermediary, according to two of the victims and their colleagues.

Kidnapping Europeans has become the main source of revenue for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which have earned at least $125 million in ransom payments in the past five years alone, according to an investigation by The Times. Although ISIS was recently expelled from Al Qaeda and abides by different rules, recently freed prisoners said that their captors were well aware of what ransoms had been paid on behalf of European nationals held by Qaeda affiliates as far afield as Africa, indicating that they were hoping to abide by the same business plan.

While government and counterterrorism officials insist that paying ransoms only perpetuates the problem, the policy has meant that captured Americans have little chance of being released. A handful succeeded in running away, and even fewer were rescued in special operations. The rest are either held indefinitely — or else killed.

In an opinion article for Reuters, David Rohde, a columnist for the news service and a former foreign correspondent for The Times who was kidnapped by the Taliban, said that the uneven approach to ransoms may have cost Mr. Foley his life.


“The payment of ransoms and abduction of foreigners must emerge from the shadows. It must be publicly debated,” wrote Mr. Rohde, who escaped his yearlong custody of the Taliban only when he climbed out a window and freed himself. “American and European policy makers should be forced to answer for their actions.”

Mr. Foley, a freelance videographer and reporter for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse, went missing 21 months ago in a town 25 miles south of the Turkish border. According to Nicole Tung, a close friend and fellow photojournalist, who gave an account of Mr. Foley’s activities before his capture, he had spent weeks in Syria documenting the country’s spiral into civil war, narrowly avoiding a falling tank shell. The normally calm reporter — who had come under fire in Afghanistan and had been kidnapped a year earlier in Libya — was rattled.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approached in 2012, he contacted Ms. Tung, and they made plans to meet for a few days across the border in Turkey. When Mr. Foley did not show up at the hotel at 5 p.m. as planned, Ms. Tung began calling his cellphone, finally reaching his translator.

The man explained that Mr. Foley had stopped at an Internet cafe to file his last images in Binesh, Syria. Soon after, armed men sped up behind his car and forced Mr. Foley out at gunpoint.

“I was sitting on the bed, in this depressing, dark hotel; the fact that the fixer answered the phone — when Jim was not answering his — was the cue that something had gone terribly wrong,” said Ms. Tung, who immediately contacted Mr. Foley’s family and editors.

Across the ocean at his home in Cambridge, Mass., the chief executive and co-founder of GlobalPost, Philip Balboni, reached for his Blackberry and had a terrible sense of foreboding: The email informing him of Mr. Foley’s abduction was almost an exact replay of the horror his staff had endured a year earlier, when Mr. Foley was kidnapped with three others by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya.

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