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James Foley's final months: Mock executions, failed rescue attempt

By Chelsea J. Carter, Barbara Starr and Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 11:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: GlobalPost releases the final e-mail from James Foley's captors
  • Foley's captors never really negotiated after demand, official says
  • ISIS has been hit with new airstrikes from U.S. warplanes
  • GlobalPost rep says captors wanted $132 million for Foley's release

Washington (CNN) -- An outrageous ransom demand. A failed rescue attempt. A taunting e-mail.

These were the details emerging about the final months of the life of American journalist James Foley, whose execution at the hands of Islamic extremists was captured on video and posted online this week as a warning to the United States.

Foley's captors demanded 100 million euros ($132.5 million) in exchange for his release, according to an official with GlobalPost, the U.S.-based online publication the freelance journalist was working for at the time of his abduction in Syria in 2012.

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Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea this week. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In a short interview with CNN on September 1, Bae said he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp. "Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he said. Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea this week. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In a short interview with CNN on September 1, Bae said he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp. "Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he said.
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GlobalPost "never took the 100 million seriously" because ransoms paid for other hostages being held by ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State, were "dramatically less," Philip Balboni, president and chief executive of the news agency, told CNN.

Balboni said the amounts paid previously for hostages released was between 2 and 4 million euros. "So we thought that something in the range of $5 million was probably the right amount to pay for the ransom," he said.

There was an effort to raise money. But there was never any true negotiation between the news outlet and Foley's captors, Balboni stressed, saying that ISIS simply made demands.

Foley, 40, was last seen on November 22, 2012, in northwest Syria, near the border with Turkey.

E-mail demands

In six e-mails during the time Foley was missing, the captors "never really negotiated their demands," Balboni said. "They stated a demand and it was 100 million (euros) or the release of Muslim prisoners."

No prisoner was ever named in the messages exchanged between GlobalPost and the captors.

Early on in the contact with the captors, there was an attempt to ascertain whether Foley was indeed alive.

The Foley family was allowed to send three questions that were so specific and personal that only Foley would have known the answers. They received the correct responses, Balboni said, letting them know the journalist was alive.

The last time Balboni heard from ISIS about Foley was August 13, he told CNN.

"The captors never messaged a lot. There was a very limited number with a very specific purpose. ... They made demands," Balboni has said.

Some messages were political and some were financial.

Then came the final e-mail message that was sent to Foley's family last week. In it, the captors made no demand and said the journalist would be killed.

"Today our swords are unsheathed toward you, GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENS ALIKE! AND WE WILL NOT STOP UNTILL (sic) WE QUENCH OUR THIRST FOR YOUR BLOOD," read the e-mail, which was posted by the online news agency on Thursday.

It went on to say, "You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours! You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings! The first of which being the blood of the American citizen, James Foley! He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!"

Foley's family, according to Balboni, responded in an e-mail, pleading for mercy and asking for more time.

They did not hear back.

Rescue attempt

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The video of Foley's execution was posted online on Tuesday. In it, the executioner, dressed in black, with his face covered, warned the life of another American journalist -- believed to be Steven Sotloff -- hangs in the balance.

The militant in the video, who speaks English with what sounds like a British accent, said the fate of the journalist depends on whether the United States ends its military operations in Iraq.

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The threat has done little to curb U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Thursday, American warplanes continued airstrikes against ISIS targets near Mosul Dam, which had been in control of ISIS but was recently reclaimed by Kurdish forces. The United States launched six more airstrikes near the dam in support of Iraqi Security Force operations, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

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The United States was so concerned about the fate of Foley and that of other American hostages held by ISIS that it attempted a rescue in Syria in July, U.S. defense and administration officials said.

During the July 4 holiday weekend, a time when Americans mark their nation's independence, several dozen U.S. commandos landed just outside the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, where U.S. intelligence indicated the hostages were being held, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation told CNN.

The commandos -- with the U.S. Army Delta Force and the Navy's Seal Team Six -- landed in the dark, and then made their way on foot to an abandoned oil refinery where the hostages were believed to be located, officials said.

When they arrived at the building, there was no sign of Foley or the other hostages, they said.

While Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the operation, he declined to provide details other than to say that he believes the hostages were in the building at some point.

Defense Department spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, told CNN the Pentagon confirmed the secret operation because several news organizations were about to go public with details.

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It is not clear where ISIS moved Foley and the hostages. But several French journalists freed by ISIS this spring have stepped forward to say they had been held in captivity with Foley.

Journalist Didier Francois told French radio Europe 1 that he and Foley were in the same cell at one point.

"He was an excellent cellmate in detention because he was very caring. He was brave. He had great courage," said Francois.

James Foley's prayers and the dark side of faith

Foley stood up to his captors and often asked the militants for simple things like bread for the other prisoners, he said.

He recalled his captors forcing prisoners to endure mock executions. Francois remembers seeing Foley, a Catholic, forced to pose against a wall as if he was being crucified.

Another journalist, Nicolas Henin, told CNN that he had been held with Foley, who he said worked hard to bring up the spirits of other prisoners.

Henin, who has never before spoken about Foley because he didn't want to jeopardize his safety, said he was held for seven months with the American journalist.

"It's a lot of stress, a lot of pressure all the time, a lot of starvation as well," said Henin, clearly emotional. "We were always lacking everything and James, in these specific harsh circumstances, (was) a very good friend and great support. He was always (there) when one of us was not feeling well... to always have some nice words."

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Condemnation from the region

On Thursday, a number of countries in the region condemned Foley's murder.

Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the killing a "heinous crime that goes against all Islamic and humanitarian principles, as well as international laws and conventions."

The ministry said Foley "showed courage in conveying the truth from the most dangerous spots in the world, including the suffering of Syrians."

The deputy secretary general at the Arab League, Ahmad bin Hilli, condemned the murder, also saying it was contrary to Islamic teachings and calling it "inhuman."

Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia also condemned the killing.

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Barbara Starr reported from Washington, and Chelsea J. Carter and Ashley Fantz reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Jethro Mullen, Pierre Meilhan, Allison Brennan and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.

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