‘I did not realize how brutal they were,’ James Foley’s father says of Islamic State militants


John and Diane Foley speak to reporters Wednesday outside their home in Rochester, N.H. (Jim Cole/Associated Press)

The parents of slain journalist James Foley said on the “Today” show that after months of silence from their son’s captors, an Aug. 12 e-mail from Islamic State militants initially gave them hope — “despite the conclusion that they would execute Jim,” John Foley said.

“I actually hoped we could engage in negotiations with them, if they were willing to send us any sort of communication,” he added in the interview Friday, three days after the Islamic State group boasted that it had beheaded Foley’s son. “I did not realize how brutal they were.”

As NBC explained in a longer post about the e-mail, the months of silence followed a brief exchange of e-mails with the militants in November and December 2013. Islamic State representatives initially demanded a ransom for the captured journalist’s release.

Philip Balboni of GlobalPost, the news organization Foley was working for at the time of his capture, told NBC that the militants’ demand of 100 million euros (about $132 million) for the release of their captives was seen as “some form of opening gambit that was so wildly excessive that no one could ever raise that kind of money.”

An unnamed individual identified as a “person close to the case” told the network that “there was no negotiation over numbers. … They threw out that 100 million figure and that was it.”

After that, word on James’s captivity came mainly from other escaped or freed hostages.

The Obama administration revealed Wednesday that the president sent special operations troops to Syria this summer to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, but the mission failed. (AP)

This summer, U.S. Special Operations unsuccessfully attempted to rescue Foley in Syria. The operation, a senior official told The Washington Post this week, did not lead to Foley’s release because “the hostages were not present … at the site of the operation.” It is believed that Foley, along with other captives, had been moved weeks before the rescue attempt.

As a rule, the United States does not negotiate with terrorist groups for captives, a policy the administration defended this week in the wake of Foley’s death.

“We believe that paying ransoms or making concessions would put all Americans overseas at greater risk,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. Paying terrorists to release captives, she said, would only serve to fund groups whose capabilities “we are trying to degrade.”

U.S. officials believe that the Islamic State has at least four other American citizens in captivity, including  freelance journalist Steven Joel Sotloff, who appears in the gruesome video showing Foley’s execution.

Foley’s parents also told “Today” about their phone call with Pope Francis, who offered his condolences and prayers to the couple. Pope Francis “was so dear,” Diane Foley said, “because he is grieving himself, having just lost three members of his family.” She added: “He was just so kind.”

You can watch the full interview here:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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