As the United States prepares to withdraw troops from Syria, the mother of a journalist murdered by ISIS is concerned about the impact the withdrawal could have on the fight to get justice for her son.
Diane Foley, whose son James Foley was brutally executed in 2014, said she is worried that without US support, the Kurdish forces will not have the capacity to continue to hold her son’s alleged killers. Those men – Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – are being held in a detention facility in northern Syria.
“I would ask President (Donald) Trump to remember that these Syrian Kurds are holding these men who targeted and murdered our citizens and that we need to assist them with getting justice for our citizens,” Foley told CNN Friday.
Kotey is accused by the US State Department of having “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture” of Western journalists and aid worker hostages. Elsheikh “was said to have earned a reputation for water-boarding, mock executions, and crucifixions,” according to the State Department. Their ISIS execution cell, dubbed the “The Beatles,” is accused by the State Department of “holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages,” including James Foley, American journalist Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
Diane Foley has made it part of her mission to have Kotey and Elsheikh brought to the US to stand trial for their crimes.
“I feel that if we don’t hold people accountable who directly target and kill our citizens, if this kind of impunity prevails, it will be problematic for us in the future,” she told CNN.
Her effort has been complicated by the fact that the pair is UK-born – they are among dozens of foreign-born ISIS fighters whose countries of origin are grappling over who should take responsibility for them. The US Department of Justice did not immediately reply to a CNN inquiry about the case.
In a Washington Post op-ed co-authored with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, Foley said that the advocates and officials who have been working to bring the duo to the US “suddenly must race against the clock” because of the withdrawal.
“The sudden and undefined nature of this withdrawal also undermines the United States’ role in holding accountable other war criminals in the region,” the op-ed said.
Foley, who was in Washington, DC, on Friday, said she was unable to meet with members of the administration due to logistical issues and the shutdown. However, she praised their work on assisting American hostages abroad.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the protection of the Kurds would be a condition of the US withdrawal from Syria – a condition that sparked the rage of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday said that discussions with Turkey on this matter were ongoing, but he was confident that an agreement could be reached. However, Kurds on the frontlines of the fight against ISIS tell CNN their morale has taken a hit as they seek protection by strengthening other alliances.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh, Salma Abdelaziz, Christian Streib, Mohammed Hassan, Nicole Gaouette and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.