Extremists demanded $132m for Foley

The US Treasury Department held fast to its policy of not negotiating with terrorists, adding that paying ransoms only encouraged more kidnappings.

August 22, 2014 08:11 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:28 pm IST - Washington

This file photo posted shows journalist James Foley in Aleppo, Syria, in July, 2012.

This file photo posted shows journalist James Foley in Aleppo, Syria, in July, 2012.

Militant groups in the Syria-Iraq region demanded $132.5 million (approximately INR 800 crores) for the release of captured American journalist James Foley, who was seen being beheaded in a gruesome video released to the Internet on Tuesday amidst worldwide condemnation.

The demands were sent in emails to Mr. Foley's family in New Hampshire, U.S. officials were quoted saying, and Philip Balboni, the CEO of GlobalPost , where Mr. Foley used to work, added that the militants first demanded the large sum of money in late 2013.

Mr. Foley was thought to have been captured in Syria by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in November 2012, although at some point he was clearly transferred to the custody of the Islamic State, the extremist group that has captured vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in recent months and brutalised its captives, often publicly.

According to Agence-France Press , another outlet for which Mr. Foley used to work, his captors made contact with GlobalPost and the Foley family “fewer than half a dozen times and… never really negotiated” over the amount demanded.

Although Mr. Balboni said in an interview, “We never took the 100 million (euro) figure seriously,” he added that he and the family provided all the information about their search for Mr. Foley and their contact with his captors to authorities at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department.

Final email to Foley family

The final email that the Foley family received was on August 12, 2014, days after the U.S. began bombing IS targets in Iraq.

In that email the militants said, “A message to the American government and their sheep like citizens: “You were given many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions as other governments have accepted. We have also offered prisoner exchanges to free the Muslims currently in your detention like our sister Dr Afia Sidiqqi, however you proved very quickly to us that this is NOT what you are interested in.”

The email then went on to threaten violence against Foley: “Today our swords are unsheathed towards you, government and citizens alike! And we will not stop until we quench our thirst for your blood. You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours! You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings! The first of which being the blood of the American citizen, James Foley! He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!”

U.S. policy of non-negotiation

Yet it appeared that the U.S. held fast to its policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and on Thursday, the Treasury Department confirmed that this was the case, adding that paying ransoms only encouraged more kidnappings.

“We do not make concessions to terrorists. That includes: We do not pay ransoms,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Thursday, adding that such payouts would only serve to “fund and finance exactly the groups [whose capabilities] we are trying to degrade.”

However, Ms. Harf also said that the U.S. was still engaged in conversations with getting other nations to stop paying ransoms to IS, underscoring that one of the “main ways” that IS has been funded recently was from “ransom payments that others have paid,” amounting to millions of dollars in 2014 alone.

Her comments came even as some, including journalist David Rohde, who was captured by the Taliban in 2008 but escaped after seven months, criticised the U.S. policy of not paying ransoms and said that in some cases it led to avoidable killings of hostages.

Pointing out that this year four French and two Spanish journalists held hostage by IS were freed after the French and Spanish governments paid ransoms through intermediaries, Mr. Rohde argued, “The divergent U.S. and European approach to abductions fails to deter captors or consistently safeguard victims.”

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