By MATTHEW MOSK, RYM MOMTAZ and BRIAN ROSS
Before a video surfaced online appearing to show the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley, U.S. officials made repeated efforts to win freedom for Foley, attempting to identify and reach his captors through Turkish, Russian and Czech intermediaries.
While officials continue to study and try to authenticate the grisly video that appears to show Foley’s execution at the hands of a captor from the Islamic jihadist group ISIS, details are now starting to emerge about the fevered efforts to gain his release.
Foley’s capture in November 2012 was initially kept quiet by his family, employers and U.S. officials until January 2013, when the family decided to break their silence and plead publicly for his release.
“We want Jim to come safely home, or at least we need to speak with him to know he’s OK,” said his father, John Foley, in a statement posted online then. “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.”
Soon after, Foley’s home state senators from New Hampshire spearheaded a government effort, sending a series of letters that January to State and Justice Department officials urging aggressive action, according to timeline released by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. State Department officials reached out to the Syrian government through the Czech Protecting Power in Damascus, but had not received any diplomatic note in response.
The State Department also requested “that Russia use its influence with the Syrian regime in support of our efforts,” Ayotte’s office said. “The Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, confirmed he had relayed the request to the Syrians.”
Ayotte wrote directly to the President of the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım, to seek help in securing Foley’s release, but did not indicate whether or how Yildirim acted in response. Turkish towns along the Syrian border are used by many Syrian rebels and some Islamist militants as safe passage into Syria, and Turkish authorities are believed to have some influence in those circles.
In November 2013, with scant signs of progress after a full year with Foley in captivity, Ayotte and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., put out their own public statement, urging that the effort continue.
“As we mark one year since James’ disappearance, we urge the State Department and the FBI to redouble their efforts to find James and secure his release,” the statement said. “We will continue to assist the Foley family and press federal officials to take every reasonable measure to find James and bring him home.”
Today both senators released statements saying they were trying to determine if the gruesome video of Foley’s death is authentic.
“If confirmed, this barbarous and heinous act shocks the conscience and underscores the truly evil nature of the terrorists we confront, who must be defeated,” Ayotte said.
The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this report. White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said U.S. intelligence officials are working to determine if the video is real and that if it is, the White House would be “appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist.”