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James Foley: A correspondent who belongs to the front lines

Published on Aug 20, 2014 12:08 PM
 

For James Foley, seeing it from the distance was not enough. He was after all, a war correspondent.

That was why the 40-year-old New Hampshire native was back in the war zone merely months after he was released from captivity in Libya in 2011.

He spent 44 days locked up in a Libyan jail after being captured by forces loyal to then strongman Muammar Gaddafi in April 2011.

Foley witnessed his friend and colleague, South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl, gunned down in the ambush outside Brega, an oil town 500 miles east of Tripoli.

Foley, who was covering the Libyan conflict for the Boston-based international news site GlobalPost, said he and two other journalists were roughed up by Libyan forces and then captured, but Hammerl's body was left in the desert.

"I'll regret that day for the rest of my life. I'll regret what happened to Anton," Foley told The Associated Press following his release in May 2011.

"It was pretty much the worst firefight I've ever experienced," said Foley, who had also covered the war in Afghanistan.

But that did not seem to stop him from returning to the combat zone. He was soon off to Syria to cover the country's civil war and unrest.

"It was a kind of siren song that called me out to the front lines," the Marquette University alumnus told students at the college in December 2011 before he returned to the Middle East.

"It's not enough to see it from the distance."

To his colleagues, Foley was a likable guy who "tended to address other men as 'brother' within seconds of meeting them," according to Clare Morgana Gillis who was captured alongside Foley in Libya.

"When we were detained in Tripoli, Jim automatically turned his energies to keeping up our strength and hope," Gillis wrote in May 2013 in the publication Syria Deeply, according to Vox.

"We shared a cell for two and a half weeks, and every day he came up with lists for us to talk through. Top 10 movies. Favorite books."

"What grieved Jim most about detention was the worry he knew he was causing his family."

Indeed, the Foleys tried over the years to get used to his choice to be a war correspondent.

"It's been an adjustment. It's been something we have been getting around," Foley's brother Michael said in January 2013, according to CNN.

"We have never tried to talk him out of it because he is so passionate about it and he truly wants to shed light on conflict."

A freelance journalist who contributed frequently to GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, Foley was kidnapped from an Internet cafe in Binesh, Syria on Thanksgiving Day, Nov 22, 2012.

His family broke their silence in January 2013, appealing for any information on Foley, the oldest of five children.

"We want Jim to come safely home, or at least we need to speak with him to know he's OK," said Foley's father, John.

"Jim is an objective journalist and we appeal for the release of Jim unharmed. To the people who have Jim, please contact us so we can work together toward his release."

Speaking to CNN then, the elder Foley said of his son: "His passion is giving life stories of people living in conflict areas."

Foley had taken security training for conflict zones and was "very cautious in what he does", said Michael.

Foley was working on several stories when he was abducted, including one on the destruction of the ancient city of Aleppo.

"The message we want to give is James is an innocent and unbiased journalist and we appeal that he be released unharmed," said Michael.

Unfortunately, their wish did not come true.

In a video released on August 19 by Islamic State, an Al-Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria, it showed Foley being beheaded. It was the 636th day since he went missing.

"We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world," Foley's mother Diane said in the statement on August 19.

"We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," she said.

 

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