8/20/14 Update: Foley has apparently been executed by Islamic militants.
BOSTON — The family of a New Hampshire journalist abducted in Syria on Thanksgiving last year says they believe they now know where he is. James Foley’s family on Friday claimed the Syrian government is holding him in a military detention center.
They’re going public with this new information with the hopes it will help win his freedom.
War reporting is simple, Foley once told a friend after a trip to Afghanistan: Just point the camera at the gunfire. But in one of Foley’s video reports filed from Libya for the Boston-based international news website GlobalPost, it’s clear he trained the camera on people, too — on the mechanics and accountants turned reluctant rebels.
Last Thanksgiving, Foley disappeared while he was reporting on the civil war in Syria. No word ever came. No one claimed responsibility.
In the 162 days since then, GlobalPost has spent “many, many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars” to try to find Foley, said its CEO, Phil Balboni, on Friday. He said he’s now very confident that Foley was captured by a pro-government militia commonly referred to as the Shabiha, who then turned the freelance journalist over to the ruling regime.
“Jim is now being held by the Syrian government in a detention facility in the Damascus area,” Balboni said. “We further believe that the facility is under the control of the Syrian air force intelligence service. Based on what we have learned it is likely that Jim is being held with one or more Western journalists, including most likely at least one other American journalist.”
Balboni is not saying who the other American is. He cited multiple sources, but he stopped short of giving further details, saying the situation is sensitive and complex.
Diane Foley, Jim’s mother, says her family carefully considered whether to even publicize his whereabouts, worrying that it would hurt his chances of coming home. But she hopes it will help.
“I’m very thankful that we know where he is,” Foley said. “That he’s alive! That’s a gift.”
She and her family are going through this for the second time. In 2011, Jim Foley was captured by Libyan forces while he was covering that war. He was later freed. Diane Foley says she tried to talk him out of going back to war reporting, but supported his decision.
“It’s hard as a parent to support our kids’ passion,” Foley said. “Because that’s what we want to do. But we want them to be safe and well.”
Now, at least, the Foleys believe their son is in good condition and is being well cared for. They’re hopeful they can now win his release. At a forum in Boston Friday, journalist Roxana Saberi said she hopes this move will lead to Foley’s freedom. Saberi was arrested by the Iranian government and sentenced to eight years in prison before being released.
“I think it’s better to be held by the government than by something like the Taliban,” she said. “Governments are more susceptible to international pressure than non-governmental bodies.”
The Foley family and GlobalPost are working with the U.S. State Department, foreign governments and third parties to try to raise that pressure. Foley may have been only a freelancer for GlobalPost, but CEO Balboni says his Boston news organization is invested in bringing its journalist home alive.
“You’ve got to find a way to stand behind your people,” Balboni said. “And let them know that you won’t be leaving them behind, no matter what.”
The Foley family chose to go public with James Foley’s whereabouts on World Press Freedom Day. It is held each year to raise awareness about journalists around the world who are censored, arrested, attacked and even murdered because of their work.
John Foley, Jim’s father, said at times the search for information about his son has been frustrating. But he’s hopeful.
“We’re appealing to the humanitarian sentiments of his captors,” he said.
This post was updated with the All Things Considered feature version.