The mother of James Foley, the war correspondent from New Hampshire beheaded by ISIS in 2014 after being kidnapped about two years earlier in Syria, said Thursday that she’s “grateful” two of her son’s alleged captors have been moved from a Syrian prison to Iraqi custody following Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria.
However, Diane Foley said in a telephone interview, she’s concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Syria that prompted the removal of the suspects, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials told the Associated Press Thursday that the United States will hand over to Iraqi authorities nearly 50 Islamic State members who were transferred from Syria in recent days, after Turkey began a military offensive into northern Syria against US-backed Kurdish-led fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kurds are holding more than 10,000 ISIS members, but concerns have been raised about possible escapes as the Kurds turn their attention to the advancing Turks.
“We have been awaiting extradition of [Elsheikh and Kotey]” to face charges in the American civilian courts, Diane Foley said. “We think they’ve been moved to Iraq, which is a good step since we can watch to make sure they’re in secure custody.”
Foley continued, “The hard part to watch is the other 10,000 ISIS fighters and 70,000 ISIS family members who are now not being guarded” because the Kurds “have to defend themselves.” She said it’s “very concerning” that so many ISIS fighters “have the opportunity to escape and infiltrate our country.”
Foley also lamented the plight of the Kurds now confronted by Turkish military aggression. “Our allies, the Kurds, who have fought beside us and with our allies to contain ISIS, how awful now to allow them to be assaulted,” she said.
As for Elsheikh and Kotey, Foley said, “I really hope that they are not held indefinitely [without trial] because that is just not fair to anybody. . . . Obviously, they treated our American citizens deplorably, but we need to bring them to trial to see if they’re the actual perpetrators of the horrific crimes they’re accused of.”
Elsheikh and Kotey were part of a four-member British cell that the Islamic State put in charge of Western hostages, who nicknamed them the “Beatles” because of their accents. In 2014 and 2015, the militants held more than 20 Western hostages in Syria and tortured many of them. The group beheaded seven American, British, and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers, broadcasting the atrocities in videos released to the world.
Another member of the cell, Mohammed Emwazi, or “Jihadi John,” is believed to have killed James Foley. Emwazi was later killed in a drone strike.
Diane Foley said Thursday that she hoped to see Elsheikh and Kotey tried in US civilian courts so her family can deliver victim-impact statements, and so the public can obtain crucial information about ISIS leadership and about citizens of the United States and other countries who have been “lost in this conflict.”
She also reflected on the state of Syria, which has been mired in a bloody civil war that began in 2011 and that her son doggedly covered until his abduction and eventual execution.
“It’s just so tragic,” Foley said. “Such a loss of life, for what? For what? What has been gained? . . . It’s very sad to me, this whole thing.”