Diane Foley, the mother of murdered war correspondent James Foley, said Sunday she was grateful to learn the US government was still searching for members of the group’s leadership after news broke Sunday of the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group.
Baghdadi was the target of a US military raid in Syria, President Trump announced Sunday morning.
Foley, in a telephone interview shortly before Trump spoke, said the administration had given her a heads-up that an announcement was coming.
“I’m glad we are still on this issue,” she said. “These folks are shrewd and will continue to pose a threat.”
Foley’s son James, a freelance war correspondent, was beheaded by members of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in 2014, nearly two years after he was kidnapped in Syria. James Foley’s execution was intended as retaliation for US military actions in Iraq around that time, the group said in a video posted online.
Foley, who lives in Rochester, N.H., commended the bravery of military members who carried out the operation against Baghdadi. But she said she would have preferred that Baghdadi had been taken alive so he could be tried in a US court.
“My preference is for all of these ISIS fighters and leaders to be held in custody and face trial,” Foley said.
Later, on Sunday night, Foley said in an e-mail that Trump had called her in the late afternoon.
“I am grateful for that kindness and for finding Baghdadi,” she said.
John Foley, Diane’s husband, told WMUR-TV that the war on ISIS must continue.
“I believe ISIS is like grass,” John Foley said. “You mow it, but it continues to grow. And I don’t think that the elimination of al-Baghdadi is the final answer.”
Trump told reporters Sunday that Baghdadi was targeted by US forces in Syria and died after fleeing into a tunnel with three of his children and detonating an explosive suicide vest.
“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward.”
Trump had teased a major development on Twitter Saturday, and multiple media outlets early Sunday reported Baghdadi’s death.
Later Sunday morning, Trump told reporters during the press conference that the United States had brought the “world’s number-one terrorist leader to justice.”
The president referred to James Foley as one of four Americans killed by the terror group whose deaths “were especially heinous.”
Earlier this month, Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Syria’s border with Turkey, which made room for the Turkish military to launch strikes in the region against Kurdish fighters who had been battling alongside US forces. The withdrawal also gave more than 100 Islamic State prisoners a chance to escape custody from Syrian prisons.
Officials were able to transfer two of Foley’s son’s alleged captors from a prison in Syria to one in Iraq following Turkey’s incursion.
Foley said she has been waiting for the extradition of those men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, to face charges in US civilian courts. She said she believes that a fair court trial is the appropriate way to hold former Islamic State fighters accountable for their actions.
During her call with Trump Sunday, Foley said, she asked the president to bring both men to the United States for trial.
She said she also hopes that more will be done to bring home those still held hostage in Syria, and she worries about their safety given the turmoil that followed the American withdrawal.
Trump has since reconsidered a total withdrawal, and could leave about 200 troops in eastern Syria, The New York Times has reported.
Foley, who called on Trump to reverse his decision to leave Syria in an Oct. 10 opinion column she co-wrote for The Washington Post, praised the government for potentially changing course.
“I am glad that the government is reconsidering a total pullout,” Foley said. “That leadership is needed [in the] hunt for the residual ISIS fighters.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.