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Diane Foley Has Long Sought Justice For Her Son's Beheading In 2014


Before Turkey began attacking America's Kurdish allies in Syria last week, U.S. forces moved to take custody of ISIS fighters held in Kurdish-run prisons. The U.S. military now holds Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two members of a British ISIS group known as the Beatles. The cell is notorious for the murder of Western hostages, including American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded in 2014.

We're now going to speak with James Foley's mother, Diane Foley. She has long sought justice for her son and campaigned for the remaining members of the Beatles group to face trial in the United States. Diane, welcome to the program.

DIANE FOLEY: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you start by reminding us about your son Jim?

FOLEY: Well, Jim was a freelance American conflict journalist who was reporting in the Middle East, had been reporting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya previous to the Syrian Arab Spring and had been in and out of country beginning in 2012.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you have spent every moment, almost, since his death trying to get the people who murdered him to face trial in the United States. Can you explain why you've wanted that?

FOLEY: First of all, the hostage-taking of American citizens - and never mind the torture and brutal execution - can only be stopped if we hold perpetrators accountable for these horrible crimes. So when two of the British jihadis fighters were captured in January of 2018, we were hopeful that at least these two could be brought to a federal criminal court here in the U.S. and have a fair trial.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Part of the reason these two men in particular were kept in Syria until now was because of jurisdiction. They are British citizens - or were until recently because they were stripped of their British citizenship. And one of the men's mothers wanted them to be extradited back to the U.K. Your feeling on why you think they've been kept in Syria all this time.

FOLEY: Our Department of Justice seems to feel that the United Kingdom has critical evidence that our Justice Department needs to convict them of the most heinous crimes that they've committed. And that's partly why Elsheikh's mother has held up any extradition and justice by filing suit in the United Kingdom - that the U.K. was sharing evidence with the United States without any protection of her son from the death penalty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is a lot of consternation and controversy over whether these men will face the death penalty, should they be tried in the United States. That has been a sticking point for the United Kingdom until recently, when they changed their position on this. What is your view on the kind of justice they should face?

FOLEY: I do not want them to receive the death penalty. I mean, I think they can be threatened with it because we need to get as much information from them as possible. But I feel they should be held as a prisoner for the rest of their lives if they, in fact, committed these horrible crimes. To them, as jihadis, it would be like a martyrdom to be killed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Diane, can you tell me how you're feeling right now after these many, many years of trying to get these men to face trial - that it might be imminent?

FOLEY: Well, you know, in one way, Lulu, I'm feeling grateful that at least these two men might be held accountable. But in another way, I am so saddened by the fact that, for one - that we're abandoning the Syrian people. I mean, Jim and Steven Sotloff, as well as Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All who were killed by ISIS.

FOLEY: They were all - but they really risked their lives. They were in Syria so that the world might know of the suffering and the plight of the Syrian people and come to their aid. And here we are all these years later and - so much loss of life, this humanitarian crisis. There are refugees everywhere. And it feels like President Assad and the jihadis have won. And all of our allies in this coalition that was built, including the Kurds, who really helped us stop the growth of ISIS - the fact that now we're leaving them behind to deal with the Turks' assault - to me, the whole thing is very sad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Diane Foley, mother of slain journalist Jim Foley. She joined us via Skype. Thank you very much.

FOLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.