Fri, Aug 21, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Slain journalist’s family press for US hostage review

AFP, WASHINGTON

One year after US journalist James Foley was murdered by Islamic State kidnappers, his family is campaigning to give future hostages a fighting chance of avoiding his fate.

After his death, Foley’s parents joined press freedom activists and families of other US hostages to press Washington to review the way it deals with kidnappers.

Buoyed by an outpouring of public shock and support in the wake of Foley’s stage-managed and videotaped beheading, they have made some breakthroughs.

In June, US President Barack Obama — responding to criticism of US policy spearheaded by the Foley family — changed existing procedures to deal with hostage-takings.

Families of the missing US citizens are set to have a single point of contact: A “fusion cell” made up of specialists from the FBI, CIA, US Department of State and other agencies.

In addition, Obama — while not revoking a US policy of not making concessions to terrorists — has said families would not be prosecuted for discussing ransom demands with kidnappers.

Foley’s mother Diane is set to visit Washington next week with others campaigning for hostage families to check on the work of the cell and discuss the way ahead.

She and the activist organizations backing her campaign support the work that has been done, with one very important proviso: About 30 US citizens are still held abroad.

“We’re very hopeful for it, but we don’t have any Americans home yet,” Diane Foley told reporters, thanking White House officials for ordering the review and beginning to act on it.

“We’ve done a very in-depth review with hostage families ... but the real proof of its success will be the return of an American hostage,” she said.

Foley, a 40-year-old freelance journalist, was murdered by a militant from the Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, on Aug. 19 last year, outside the group’s Syrian base in Raqa.

Two weeks later, US hostage Steven Sotloff was killed in the same manner, again on camera and by the same British-accented Islamic State executioner.

Propaganda footage of their deaths triggered global revulsion and threw light on the horrors facing those living under the Islamic State group’s rule in its self-declared “caliphate.”

However, it also betrayed a stark difference in the fates of hostages from some European nations and of those from the US and Britain.

Reporters from France and Spain who had been held with Foley and Sotloff had been released alive, reportedly after large ransoms were paid.

Britain and the US do not pay ransoms. British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning were killed shortly after Foley and Sotloff.

Foley’s family complained after his death that US officials had threatened to prosecute them if they tried to pay a ransom.

On Wednesday, US National Security Council spokesman Peter Boogaard said that in June, Obama had already said: “As a government ... we must do better.”

“We are grateful for the courage and generosity of the Foleys and the other families and former hostages for their engagement and assistance with the hostage policy review and we are committed to implementing the reforms going forward,” Boogaard added.

In June, Obama restated US policy to deny kidnappers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases or policy changes but added that “no concessions does not mean no communications.”

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