Photojournalist James Foley Executed By ISIS On Video

James Foley. Photograph by Nicole Tung
James Foley. Photograph by Nicole Tung

By Donald R. Winslow

DURHAM, NC (August 19, 2014) – A video posted online today by The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) shows a militant in the act of beheading American freelance photojournalist James W. Foley.

Foley, 40, was kidnapped in Syria more than one year ago while working as a freelance video photojournalist covering the country's civil war for Agence France-Press GlobalPost.

The YouTube video titled "A Message To #America (from the #IslamicState) shows a barefoot man standing, and on his knees, who is identified as Foley. He is wearing an orange shirt and pants. Standing beside him is a black-clad, masked ISIS militant. During the five-minute video Foley was forced to read an anti-American statement in which he was made to say that his "real killer" is America. 

"I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again," the photojournalist can be heard saying. Then the masked ISIS militant executed him, saying that Foley's murder was in retaliation for American air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq.

The video also shows journalist Steven Sotloff, a Time magazine freelancer whose kidnapping has not been publicized until now. In the video an ISIS militant holds Sotloff's matching orange shirt collar at the neck as the threat of executing Sotloff is delivered, his life "depending" upon President Barack Obama's next moves in Iraq.

Sotloff has apparently been missing since last August when he last Tweeted from Libya. The location of the video and the execution is unknown. A Press Association journalist in London said that he believes the accent of the militant in the video is British, more specifically from the South East/Greater London area.

The Foley family released a statement tonight on Twitter. The photojournalist's mother Diane Foley wrote, "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."

"Brother, your blood will not be in vain," Brazilian photojournalist and Robert Capa Gold Medal Award winner André Liohn wrote tonight on Facebook. (André Liohn with James Foley, at left) Liohn and Foley were together covering Libya's civil war, and together they co-organized the "Friends Of Anton Hammerl" relief effort after Hammerl was kidnapped by Gaddafi forces. Hammerl was shot and killed by his captors on April 5, 2011.

"The love that you always shared will always build this world into something better,"  Liohn wrote. "Love you!"

Foley had been working as an independent journalist in the Middle East for about five years when he disappeared. He was 39 when he was kidnapped, and had been missing for 635 days. 

Foley was a 1996 graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee where he majored in history and Spanish and played rugby. Originally destined to be an inner city teacher, joining up with Teach For America after graduation, instead he fell in love with international reporting. He returned to school and earned a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in 2008.

Marquette University issued a statement Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. It said, "The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist, James Foley. ... We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James' family and friends during this very difficult time. James ... had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world — a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder."

After Foley was released in Libya, he wrote this magazine piece for Marquette University about how he prayed the rosary during his captivity, and about how both Marquette and his faith had prepared him for the world of reporting on international conflict.

Last year the GlobalPost reported the circumstances of Foley's abduction:

"Foley had set off toward the border in a car about an hour before his capture. A witness, a Syrian, later recounted over the phone to a journalist in Turkey that an unmarked car intercepted Foley. The witness said men holding kalashnikovs shot into the air and forced Jim out of the car.

"The witness said he noticed nothing that would indicate whether the aggressors were rebel fighters, individuals looking for a ransom, members of a pro-government militia, or a religious-based group with other motivations."