James Foley Knew The Risks In Syria, But He Had A Story To Tell, Brother Michael Says


James Foley, the US journalist who was beheaded by ISIS jihadists, was one of the region's most experienced correspondents in reporting from hostile environments. If anyone knew the risks, it was him.

It was something his family had come to terms with, though it never stopped them worrying the worst would happen, especially after Foley was kidnapped in Libya for six weeks in 2011, and then released.

His mother, Diane Foley, who was asked in January 2013 if her son had any reservations about going to Syria, murmured: "Not enough."

James Foley, reporting from Syria, where he was kidnapped and murdered

"Life is the most precious thing and its unfathomable how quickly it can be taken away," his sister Kelly, who has implored people not to watch the video of her sibling's death, wrote on Twitter. "I love you James Foley. Rest peacefully; you're free."

Brother Michael Foley told HuffPost UK last year that Foley, known as Jim to his family, was an example that it was possible to be as cautious as possible, and still be taken.

"Before then [his capture in Libya], they were really pushing the limits, perhaps not realising how fluid the situation there was. We talked at length about that, and what it taught him," Michael Foley said.

"There's a fraternity of journalists there who work closely together, they are all generally very cautious," he explained. "He often used to speak about the dangers he faced out there. And you'd turn on the news and see Jim's reports and photos on CNN. Outside of what he told us personally, we could see what he was doing almost realtime."

"Once you go to country like Syria, once you make the decision to step over the border, it doesn't matter who you are with, it's a very dangerous place. Richard Engels is a good example [the chief correspondent for NBC News who was taken captive in Syria and then released], he had a security package and he still got taken."

Foley, 40, was snatched on 22 November 2012, when his car was hijacked near the village of Taftanaz by militants, but his family told HuffPost last year that US intelligence did not even know exactly which group had been holding him. "We have no line of communication, and we don't know who has him. It's very, very difficult, a tangled web," Michael Foley said.

Buttons in support of James Foley are displayed during a panel discussion about the importance and dangers of reporting on world conflicts

He was a man who went to the most dangerous places on Earth because he felt a calling, and for the love of the craft. "Journalism is journalism," Foley told the Associated Press after his return from Libya. "If I had a choice to do Nashua (New Hampshire) zoning meetings or give up journalism, I'll do it. I love writing and reporting."

"Conflict reporters don't do this for money. Weeks can go by with a lot of travel at your own expense," Michael Foley told HuffPost UK, adding that he did not support a strategy that some newspapers have adopted, which is not to accept photographs or reports from Syria because it encourages freelancers to take too great a risk.

"It is censorship to some degree, they are turning their back on information which they should be showing to the world, because of their liability, moral or otherwise," Michael Foley said. "The outlets that Jim worked for, Global Post and AFP, don't share that view. They have stood up for him to a degree I never could have imagined."

According to an AP report, his family have lit candles in the window of the home in Rochester, New Hampshire, with a yellow ribbon tied on the tree in the driveway.

Diane Foley posted a wrenching message to the Facebook page of the "Free James Foley" group. "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," she said.

"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."

John and Diane Foley, parents of journalist James Foley, are photographed at their home in Rochester after Foley's release from Libya

Friends of Foley had written of their deep affection for the reporter, and their fears for him. "I still call his phone sometimes and listen to the outgoing message," his reporter friend and fellow captive in LibyaClare Morgana Gillis wrote in a tribute piece last year, recalling the time they met in Benghazi.

"Having spent years reporting on conflict, Jim told me when to duck and when to run. If he had a sandwich, he’d offer me half; if down to one cigarette, he’d pass it back and forth. He saved my life twice before I’d known him a full month.

"Captivity is the state most violently opposite his nature. But when we were detained in Tripoli, Jim automatically turned his energies to keeping up our strength and hope. We shared a cell for two and a half weeks, and every day he came up with lists for us to talk through. Top 10 movies. Favorite books. The fall of the Roman Empire and the rebirth of Western civilization. Which famous person would you most like to meet?

"When I was in tears after a six-hour interrogation that ended at sunrise, he observed matter-of-factly, 'It’s their job to break you. They did it to you today, and they’ll do it to me tomorrow. Get some sleep.' Once we were moved out of prison into a safe house with a markedly improved standard of life, Jim set to work. 'We’ve got paper, pens, nicotine and caffeine,' he said. 'There’s no excuse not to be writing all this down.'"

Friend and film-maker Matthew VanDyke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that seeing news reports of his friend's death was "a complete nightmare" and urged other reporters in Syria and Iraq to take precautions, saying "if it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody".

"He was certainly aware of the dangers, he was very professional. He had been through a rough time in Libya when he was captured and even after that he came home a little bit and then he went right back to Libya to continue reporting on that conflict. And he went to Syria too knowing the dangers."

"He had a love for what he did and he wanted to tell the story of the Syrian people. And nothing was going to stop him from doing that," VanDyke continued.

VanDyke added that IS did not even exist when Foley was captured in Syria in 2012. He had been told that the photojournalist was originally captured by members of Jabhat al Nusra, members of which subsequently joined the self-proclaimed caliphate.

Journalist friends have also paid tribute on Twitter:

Philip Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, paid tribute to their reporter, and thanked the public on behalf of Foley's parents. "On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim's possible execution first broke.

"We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. ... We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family."

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