20 Aug 2014

James Foley: war reporter ‘drawn to the frontline naturally’

In his last article before he was kidnapped, James Foley reported on the “increasingly violent” Syrian opposition, which had been “deeply infiltrated by both foreign fighters and terrorist groups”.

(James Foley working in Syria in 2012 – video courtesy of Antonio Pampliega)

Tragically, he appears to have been murdered by one of these “foreign fighters”, a man who seems to speak with a British accent and claims to be a member of Islamic State.

Foley, 40, was working as a freelancer for the American news website GlobalPost when he was kidnapped in northern Syria in November 2012.

GlobalPost said it had “mounted an extensive international investigation” to find out who had abducted him and where he was being held.

At one stage, with Syria in the midst of civil war, it was thought that he had been taken by the Assad regime, but “we later were given strong reason to believe he was being held by Islamic militants”.

His kidnapping was revealed by his parents, John and Diane Foley, from Rochester, New Hampshire, two months after his disappearance – and they soon launched a campaign to bring him home.

Foley had worked throughout the Middle East for GlobalPost and the French news agency AFP, and in 2011, while covering the Libyan civil war, he was seized by pro-Gaddafi fighters near Benghazi and held in prison for 44 days.

He was fortunate that time: a photographer he had been working alongside, South African Anton Hammerl, was killed when Gaddafi’s men caught up with them and opened fire.

The former teacher later told students at Medill School of Journalism, where he had studied: “Any soldier or reporter who has been under direct fire knows, the body reacts much before the mind can process what is actually happening.

“The mind can even present the illusion of safety, but the fight or flight instincts are in control.

“The next morning you wake up and you realise the worst thing in the world just happened. Anton is most likely dead and we’re captured and nobody knows where we are.”

In his last article before he was kidnapped, James Foley reported on the

Despite what he had been through, Foley later returned to Libya to cover Muammar Gaddafi’s final days and, with colleague Tracey Shelton, witnessed his capture in October 2011.

As a war reporter, he said he was “drawn to the frontline naturally”, that instead of being repelled by extreme violence, “sometimes, as you know, it draws you closer”.

Foley had been covering wars since 2008, when he embedded with American troops in Iraq, where his brother had served in the US air force – in Foley’s words, at a “huge base with a swimming pool, so he wasn’t in danger”.

His mother Diane has paid tribute to him on Facebook, describing her Jim as “an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person”, who “gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people”.

Buzzfeed Middle East correspondent Sheera Frenkel, a friend, saw him a week before his final trip to Syria and “talked about marriage/kids …” A sad end for a “generous colleague and friend”.