U.S. strikes ISIS again as more details emerge about James Foley’s ransom
(CNN) — The captors of American journalist James Foley had demanded a ransom of 100 million euros ($132.5 million) for his release, according to GlobalPost spokesman Richard Byrne.
The New Hampshire native, 40, was a freelancer for the online news outlet. He was on assignment when he disappeared on November 22, 2012, in northwest Syria, near the border with Turkey.
Philip Balboni, the president and chief executive of GlobalPost, told CNN that the company “never took the $100 million seriously” because ransoms paid for other hostages in ISIS captivity were “dramatically less.” He did not say what those lower amounts were, but that there was an attempt to raise money that was more in line with the lower sums.
CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen also felt the ransom for Foley was so excessive that it couldn’t be considered “a serious demand.”
“The kinds of money that we’ve seen be paid for hostages is much lower than that,” he said.
There was never any true negotiation between the news outlet and Foley’s captors, Balboni stressed, saying that ISIS simply made demands.
In about six e-mails during the time Foley was missing, the captors “never really negotiated their demands,” Balboni said. “They stated a demand and it was 100 million (euros) or the release of Muslim prisoners.”
No prisoner was ever named in the messages exchanged between GlobalPost and the captors.
Early on in the contact with them, there was an attempt to ascertain whether Foley was indeed alive or if the kidnappers were bluffing. The Foley family was allowed to send three questions that were so specific and personal that only Foley would have known the answers. They received the right responses, Balboni said, letting them know the journalist was alive.
The Islamic extremist group ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State, controls large areas of Syria and Iraq. It published a video Tuesday showing the journalist’s beheading. ISIS is infamous for its brutality tactics across Syria and Iraq where it has made dramatic and fast advances over the summer.
Several French journalists were released by ISIS militants this spring.
One of them, Nicolas Henin, was freed in April. He told CNN Thursday he had been held with Foley and that Foley worked hard to bring up the spirits of other prisoners.
Henin, who has never before spoken about Foley because he didn’t want to jeopardize his safety, said he was held for seven months with the American journalist.
“It’s a lot of stress, a lot of pressure all the time, a lot of starvation as well,” said Henin, clearly emotional. “We were always lacking everything and James, in these specific harsh circumstances, (was) a very good friend and great support. He was always (there) when one of us was not feeling well… to always have some nice words.”
French journalist and former ISIS hostage Didier Francois told French radio Europe 1 Thursday that Foley was “an extraordinary journalist.”
“He was an excellent cell mate in detention because he was very caring. He was brave. He had great courage,” said Francois.
Foley stood up to his captors and often asked the militants for simple things like bread for the other prisoners, Francois said.
He recalled his captors forcing prisoners to endure mock executions. Francois remembers seeing Foley forced to pose against a wall as if he was being crucified.
Foley was Catholic.
A militant who appears in the video of Foley’s beheading links the killing to the U.S. intervention in Iraq against ISIS. The killer says the fate of another American journalist shown in the footage, believed to be Steven Sotloff, depends on what U.S. President Barack Obama does next.
But the threat has done little to curb U.S. military operations in Iraq. Thursday, American warplanes continued airstrikes against ISIS targets near Mosul Dam, which had been in control of ISIS but was recently reclaimed by Kurdish forces. The United States launched six more airstrikes near the dam in support of Iraqi Security Force operations, according to Centcom.
The strikes destroyed or damaged three ISIS Humvees, one ISIS vehicle and multiple locations where improvised explosives had been placed, the U.S. military said.
Calling ISIS a “cancer,” Obama said Wednesday that the United States “will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke Thursday about Foley, saying “We have long memories and our reach is very wide.”
“We will not forget what happened, and people will be held accountable, one way or another,” Holder said in Washington.
A failed rescue attempt
U.S. officials revealed that they had tried to rescue Foley and other captives earlier this summer in a special military operation in Syria. But the special forces from units such as Delta Force and Navy SEAL Team 6 failed to find the hostages.
A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation told CNN that it happened during July fourth weekend, just outside the city of Raqqa in northern Syria, an ISIS stronghold. At night, several dozen commandos, who had trained and prepared for their mission beforehand, landed in specially-equipped radar-evading helicopters and made their way on foot to a building where they believed the hostages were, the official said.
It’s unclear if ISIS knew the commandos they engaged in a firefight were Americans, the official said.
Start to finish, the operation took two hours, the official said.
“Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Wednesday.
Several ISIS operatives were killed in the special operation, a U.S. official said. No U.S. personnel were killed, but one was slightly wounded. Fighters jets and surveillance aircraft provided overhead protection to the troops.
Bergen compared the mission to the one in which Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. The commandos going into the compound in Pakistan couldn’t have known for certain that bin Laden was there. “There’s always uncertainty,” he said.
Former Navy SEAL Chris Heben said there’s real-time intelligence gathering all the way up to the second a raid begins.
“The intelligence gathering is massive and it happens at a high rate of speed,” he said, with analysts “chewing through” data even while commandos are en route.
‘Vitriolic and filled with rage’
Messages from Foley’s captors began last fall, Balboni said Wednesday.
The last time Balboni heard from ISIS about Foley was August 13, he told CNN. The video of Foley’s murder was released Tuesday.
Foley’s father’s broke down several times as he spoke Wednesday about his son.
“We beg compassion and mercy” for the other American journalist shown in the video, John Foley said. Sotloff, a contributor to Time and Foreign Policy magazines, was kidnapped at the Syria-Turkey border in 2013.
“They never hurt anybody,” John Foley said. “They were trying to help. There is no reason for their slaughter.”
Condemnation from the region
On Thursday, at least three countries in the region condemned Foley’s murder.
A statement on the Facebook page of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called for a “concerted and combined effort” from the international community to fight against “terrorism as a global phenomenon” that threatens the stability of the world.
Bahrain said the beheading was a “terrorist act” that violated “the principles of the Islamic relation, human value and international law and norms,” according to a statement from its information ministry.
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the killing a “heinous crime that goes against all Islamic and humanitarian principles, as well as international laws and conventions.”
The ministry said Foley “showed courage in conveying the truth from the most dangerous spots in the world, including the suffering of Syrians.”
The Deputy Secretary General at the Arab League, Ahmad bin Hilli, condemned the murder, also saying it was contrary to Islamic teachings and calling it “inhuman.”
A statement from the office of Tunisia’s president called crimes ISIS has committed “heinous” and a “serious threat to multiculturalism.”
“These terrorist organizations pose a threat to all countries in the region,” it read.