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Kidnapped journalist believed to be alive, in Syrian custody

John and Diane Foley, parents of James Foley, listened to a panel discussion about the importance and dangers of reporting on world conflicts at a Free James Foley event Friday in Boston.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

John and Diane Foley, parents of James Foley, listened to a panel discussion about the importance and dangers of reporting on world conflicts at a Free James Foley event Friday in Boston.

James Foley, the journalist kidnapped in Syria five months ago, is now believed to be held in a detention center near ­Damascus.

Foley, a Boston-based freelance journalist working for the news organization GlobalPost, was abducted last Thanksgiving Day, reportedly taken by unidentified gunmen in the northwest of the country, his family said at the time.

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For months, family and friends have had no word on Foley’s whereabouts or condition.On Friday, Philip S. Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, said the organization has learned from multiple sources that Foley is probably alive, and is probably in the custody of Syrian government forces.

“We feel very confident that Jim is OK,” Balboni said Friday, “or as OK as you can be, not being free.”

He added that there are “a number of encouraging signs” that Foley may be free in the not-distant future.

Foley’s kidnapping garnered international attention last winter, when the freelance journalist became an emblem of the risks taken by foreign correspondents reporting from conflict zones. Foley had been kidnapped once previously, while reporting on the civil uprising in Libya in April 2011, and was released after spending 44 days in Libyan prisons.

After his kidnapping last year, Foley’s family waited a month before publicizing news of his disappearance, fearful that a crush of media attention would discourage captors from freeing the reporter. In early January, Foley’s family made a public appeal for help, starting a website and Twitter feed to raise awareness of his kidnapping.

GlobalPost also hired a global security firm operating on the Turkish-Syrian border, and at times within Syria, to investigate Foley’s whereabouts.

The news on Foley’s location was first announced Friday morning in a speech Balboni gave in Boston in honor of World Press Freedom Day. Friday afternoon, Balboni said that he and Foley’s family began to receive information that Foley was in the custody of the Syrian government about two months ago. Since that time, Balboni said, more information has given them 85 to 90 percent confidence that Foley remains alive and in a Syrian prison. “We’re very hopeful,” said Balboni. “It’s been a very long time, 5½ months, and an incredible amount of work has gone into getting to this point.”

Balboni said there is no information on Foley’s physical condition. Investigators believe he may be imprisoned with other journalists, including another American.

Balboni and representatives from the global security firm are in the midst of attempting to negotiate with Syrian officials to garner Foley’s release.

“We are now very focused on our negotiations with the Syrian government, directly and through other channels, to ensure Jim’s release,” Balboni said.

Balboni said that Foley’s family remains hopeful that he will be freed soon.

“They feel very good,” Balboni said. “They are very strong people. Like any parent or sibling, they are frustrurated or worried, but they see as we do that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter
@martinepowers.
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