Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A reporter drawn to danger

Shortly after James Foley's 2011 release from 44 days of captivity in Libya, he returned to Boston to work at the offices of GlobalPost, the website that had published much of the American journalist's work from the Middle East. But it soon became clear that despite the ordeal he had just experienced, Foley wanted nothing more than to get back in the field to begin reporting again.

"You could just tell that this was a guy who — sitting at a desk was not who he was," said Katrine Dermody, a friend of Foley's at GlobalPost at the time. "We used to joke, 'Jim, you look like a caged animal' — he just yearned to be out on the field."

Foley disappeared in Syria in November 2012. A video released Tuesday by the group the Islamic State showed him being beheaded in the desert.

His death capped two years of pleas from his family, friends and employer to find the 40-year-old from New Hampshire and return him to safety.

His mother, Diane Foley released a statement saying that the family had "never been prouder of our son Jim," who she said had given his life "trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people."

She urged her son's kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages in Syria. "Like Jim, they are innocents," she said. "They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."

Foley, the oldest of five children, graduated from Marquette University and went on to work as an educator through Teach for America in Phoenix. But he was drawn to the world of reporting and eventually returned to school to get a graduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University. From there, he set out for conflict zones in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, filing gritty dispatches and videos that highlighted the struggles of ordinary people in war.

"He took you right there, and sometimes we were looking at things and thinking, 'He's too close. He's too close,' " said Andrew Meldrum, assistant Africa editor for the Associated Press who worked with Foley at GlobalPost. "And you wanted to say, 'Pull back,' but it was compelling video.''

Foley got into journalism because "he really wants to give voice to people in conflict," his mother said on the Today show last year. "He really cares, particularly about the vulnerable ones: the children, the civilians in the mix of it all."

She said she last spoke to him in November 2012, when he called home to cheer her up after her 104-year-old aunt died.

In a 2011 interview at the Medill School of Journalism, Foley said he was drawn to conflict journalism to help inform Americans about the importance of the freedoms they have at home.

"Most of the world, you cannot speak your mind," he said. "Most of the world, there's no due process. Being away from the U.S. for a long time in these places, it really got knocked into me this time, man. We live in a pretty good place."

The Islamic State called Foley's death a revenge killing for U.S. airstrikes against militants in Iraq.

Foley was one of at least four Americans still being held in Syria — three of whom officials say were kidnapped by the Islamic State. The fourth, freelance journalist Austin Tice, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be in the custody of government forces in Syria.

It was disclosed late Wednesday that U.S. special forces mounted a secret rescue mission in Syria this summer to free Foley and other Americans, but the hostages were nowhere to be found.

Several dozen U.S. troops engaged in a firefight with militants from the Islamic State, but "while on site, it became apparent the hostages were not there," a U.S. official told ABC News. One U.S. service member was injured before the troops evacuated.

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