On August 19, 2014, the Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State posted a graphic video online that purported to show the execution of U.S. journalist James Foley. The next day, U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that the video was authentic.
Islamic State claimed to have executed Foley in retribution for U.S. military intervention in Iraq. In August, the U.S. had launched air strikes in Iraq in an attempt to prevent militants from taking control of key areas, reports said.
Foley’s last known whereabouts were in Syria, where he was kidnapped in November 2012, but it is unknown where he was killed. The journalist, who had contributed to Global Post and Agence France-Presse, was traveling in Idlib province in northwest Syria toward the border with Turkey when his car was intercepted, Global Post reported, citing the account of a witness interviewed by a Turkish journalist. Two armed assailants forced Foley out of his vehicle, according to the report.
At the request of Foley’s family, his disappearance was not made public until January 2013, when his family launched a campaign seeking his release. At the time of his abduction, no group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. In May 2013, Global Post and Foley’s family said they believed he may possibly have been held in a prison by Syrian authorities. A May 2014 article in Vanity Fair magazine disputed the theory based on his location at the time of his abduction, and suggested he was being held by one of the radical Islamic militant rebel groups in Syria.
Foley had reported from conflict areas in the past. In 2011, he and two other journalists were held captive for more than 40 days in Libya by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi. A fourth journalist who was traveling with them, Anton Hammerl, was shot and killed by Libyan forces when the group was seized. Foley later helped organize an auction to raise funds for Hammerl’s three young children.
President Barack Obama condemned Foley’s killing in a public address on August 20, 2014, as an "act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world."
In November 2015, Aine Lesley Davis, a member of the Islamic state cell dubbed “The Beatles” that is suspected of having overseen the murder of Foley, as well as U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff and other hostages, was arrested in Istanbul, according to news reports. Davis was subsequently convicted on terrorism charges in Turkey in May 2017 and sentenced to seven years and a half years in jail, news reports said at the time.
In January 2016, the Islamic State-affiliated online magazine Dabiq confirmed that Mohammed Emzawi, who was nicknamed as Jihadi John and appeared masked in the videos of the murders of Foley, Sotloff, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, had been killed in a drone airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa on November 12, 2015, according to news reports.
In early 2018, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces arrested the two remaining members of the cell, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, while they were trying to flee to Turkey, according to a report by Sky News citing SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel. Kotey and Elsheikh remained in SDF custody until October 2019, when they were transferred to U.S. military custody, according to news reports.
Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department announced at an October 7, 2020, news conference that Kotey and Elsheikh were on route to the United States from Iraq to face trial for the murder of four U.S. hostages: Foley, Sotloff, and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller, according to news reports.
In August 2020, U.S. Attorney General William Barr had waived the death penalty for Kotey and Elsheikh if they were convicted of the murder of the four U.S. hostages in exchange for British classified evidence against them, according to news reports.
Kotey and Elsheikh face charges of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens outside of the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death, according to the BBC.
Kotey and Elsheikh appeared before a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, via video link from prison on October 7, 2020, according to news reports. In media interviews, they had previously denied involvement in the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Mueller, Kassig, and other Western hostages, according to reports.