Published on 20 Aug 2014

James Foley: the danger is this murder will not be the last

Nothing is happening by chance. If we characterise militants from Islamic State as simply barbaric and savage we are failing to understand their strategy or the extent of the danger they pose. Their cruelty has a purpose.

They murdered James Foley, a 40-year-old American journalist, 21 months after capturing him in Syria, at a time when they believed it would have maximum impact.

In the video, produced by the al-Furqan Media Foundation – we will not link to it because we don’t want to promote their propaganda – he appears to be healthy, an indication that they had been holding him for exactly such a moment.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, about 80 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria, 20 of whom remain missing believed to be in captivity.

Before the end of 2012, it was difficult but possible for journalists to cover the war in Syria from the rebel side, but after the jihadi extremists started their kidnap policy it became far more dangerous.

Rebels from the Free Syrian Army, who had previously facilitated trips by journalists, used their contacts to try to release reporters who had been captured but with diminishing success. In other cases, it is reported ransoms may have been paid.

Read more: Islamic State video claims to show US journalist beheading

Kidnapping was used as a tactic by Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) between 2004 and 2007. Contractors like Nicholas Berg and Ken Bigley were murdered. They, like James Foley, were forced to wear Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuits, but the videos and message were less sophisticated in those days.

The killing of AQI’s leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, in a US airstrike in June 2006, combined with a US programme to pay Iraq’s Sunni tribes to fight Al Qaeda was instrumental in bringing relative peace to Iraq – at least until recently.

The video of James’ killing describes itself as “A message to America” and starts with the speech President Obama gave when he announced airstrikes on Iraq on 7 August. James’ murder was blackmail – we’ve done this and if you don’t stop, we’ll kill another. The reporter Steven Sotloff, also dressed in orange, was shown as the potential next victim.

It’s hard to imagine the dread he and his family are going through now, not to mention the families of all those still held. This won’t stop the US airstrikes – in fact, it’s likely to firm up wavering western resolve to deal with IS. The jihadis don’t mind that – it shows how powerful they are, taunting the enemy.

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The fact that the voice threatening James appears to be British only makes further military action more likely, and may pull the British into the war.

The prime minister – who has rushed back from his holiday – has described IS as a “terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean”, while previously stating that British troops will not go into action to hold them back.

Such reluctance seems increasingly untenable. His great fear is that British jihadis will come back and sow terror here, and that battle cannot be waged only through intelligence.

The video is also a recruitment tool, appealing to angry young extremist men who glory in violence. Jihadis, from al-Qaeda to IS and beyond, debated the role of terror in a document called “The Management of Barbarism.”

Read more: why we shouldn’t share – or view – the video of James Foley’s murder

Al-Qaeda regards IS as too violent. Documents found by Rukmini Calliachi, a journalist then with Associated Press, in Timbuktu in January 2013, showed jihadis in Mali holding back on strict sharia punishments to win the acquiescence, if not the support, of the population. They are reported to have done the same in Mosul.

Such hearts-and-minds tactics, however, would never extend to unbelievers. Jihadis divide people into Muslims and non-Muslims, not combatants and civilians. In the area extending across Syria and Iraq IS is establishing the Dar el Islam – Land of Islam – they last attempted in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Then, westerners, including journalists and aid workers, could sometimes operate with the permission of senior commanders. Not in this jihadi state today. Those who favour the most extreme violence as a tactic are on the ascendant, and the danger is that this murder will not be the last.

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7 reader comments

  1. Bob says:

    Mr Foley is a hero, selflessly putting his life on the line for the rest of us. Those who hold office please take note -would you do the same?
    His life will not be in vain, Good always prevails, evil poisons its own well.
    The time is now for the Muslim community to brand these evil people for what they are- apostates, heretics and join with us to get rid of them.
    We must not overeact as we have underreacted so far, just destroy them, they are NOT brave people, just cowards, weak people, cowards also never ever win. They look more as if they have being down the pub, ie many appear to be on the large size, not fighting soldiers -easily beatable.
    any states supporting them need to be aware that their support can and will be tracked backed in time, so need to cut ties now,
    Mt prediction is that they will be gone within a few months, we need to act decisely and wisely to stop them doing more damage before they depart.

    best wishes and thanks to all those fighting these evil people
    Bob

    1. Adriana says:

      You speak as though the muslim community is not already with you or ‘us’ (who exactly is us?) in condemning ISIL. As though they should make grand overtures of denunciation, more so than any other person of any other faith or of secularity.

      They shouldn’t and they don’t have to. And to assume that is to perpetuate the idea that Islam and the muslim community are at odd with the rest of the world. ISIL are not speaking from religion, they are speaking from indoctrination of cultural agendas far more complex and orchestrated by western and eastern governments after years of conflict.

      It goes without saying that anyone of any religion or not is appalled by this, and the actions of terrorist groups. Now is not the time to be side eyeing each other and demanding positioning, but now is the time to be accepting, tolerant and understanding so we can all stand against this psychopathy spreading across the middle east at the moment.

  2. Jerreh Manneh says:

    My deepest condolence to the family and friends of James Foley. I condemned this Barbaric act in the strongest terms. It is sad that people who are branded “British born” cannot import the British Values abroad, but rather Evil. You cannot hide behind any religion I quote to take another mans life. It js an evil ideology designed by cycopaths and brain washing young people around the world. More needs to be done to stop this , it is frightening that we might have people like this in our streets. We welcome the decision the government wants to take to curb the threat. Strip them of their citizenship. Make life hell for them any where they go. In addition Fight them where ever they are hidding or training. RIP JAMES FOLEY

  3. Iain says:

    Deeply troubling. The man existed and was presumably murdered. Has the rest been independently verified or is it a security services mockup?

    It just seems to fit Cameron’s agenda too neatly. Demonisation of IS, whom recently we were being asked to support, sympathetic and telegenic hostage, Brit jihadi. Cameron’s rage was OTT and unconvincing, Obama moronic and the parents unfazed. Cameron’s flight from the beach clutching a red case was B-movie!

    What I am saying is that we can only trust Channel 4 to challenge this kind of story and get to the truth for us.

  4. Toby says:

    surely no one believes Obama’s pious rhetoric anymore. So this is a ‘murder’ according to the white house … how do they make these distinctions when they classify deaths in countries that that they’ve destabilised? I acknowledge it’s a horrific act but seriously, is there anything that makes this one death worthy of so much coverage & revulsion relative to many hundreds of thousands of deaths / murders committed by the US in the middle east & around the world. Where was Obama’s (& other western leaders) words, revulsion & outrage when an Israeli sniper murdered an innocent Palestinian whilst he lay injured on the ground?? … isn’t an extremist (you have to be one to do this sort of killing) manning a drone from an airbase in Virginia blowing kids to bits also an abhorrent murder? … same old same old, nothing changes. I agree IS is a big problem but I reality US is a bigger one.

  5. Jerreh Manneh says:

    My deepest condolence to the family and friends of James Foley. I condemned this Barbaric act in the strongest terms. It is sad that people who are branded “British born” cannot import the British Values abroad, but rather Evil. You cannot hide behind any religion I quote to take another mans life. It is an evil ideology designed by cycopaths to brain wash young people around the world. More needs to be done to stop this , it is frightening that we might have people like this in our streets. We welcome the decision the government wants to take to curb the threat. Strip them of their citizenship. Make life hell for them any where they go. In addition Fight them where ever they are hidding or training. RIP JAMES FOLEY

  6. Steve Roach says:

    This is indeed horrific,but why are we so surprised,Its not long ago that a young British soldier was hacked to death on the streets of London,the British have a massive problem,the security services report that we are facing a real threat with terrorist cells throughout the UK,what is this government doing to protect us,all we get are words of condemnation,its ironic that William Hague and this government have armed IS,the causes of this war are well documented,but it is a war,and whether we fight it now or in the future we are going to have to fight it

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