US journalist murdered by Islamic State ‘had found his calling’, say parents

John and Diane Foley do not blame Islam for the death of their son James

John and Diane Foley, parents of the murdered US journalist Jim Foley. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

John and Diane Foley, parents of the murdered US journalist Jim Foley. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


John and Diane Foley laugh and smile easily. They talk a lot – in animated, excited, rapid bursts, sometimes cutting across each other, building on what the other has said, finishing each other’s sentences.

It is a little disconcerting because they’re talking about their son Jim, who was beheaded in August, a savage butchering that was videoed by his Islamic State killers and published online.

How do they cope with what happened?

“With me, its my faith,” says Diane. “I believe that God protected him to the end, and I prayed that he be set free, and I think that the way, the only way, to get him free was for him to be killed . . . For two years nearly, he was brutally tortured.”

John, who shares her faith, chips in: “He was the whipping boy because he was an American, and we know this through the other hostages.”

“He was set free,” continues Diane. “We’re the ones who are struggling with the loss of Jim because Jim was a light. He was fun, he was a great friend, he was the older brother everyone loved.”

Their son was in Syria working for GlobalPost, an American news website, and for French news agency Agence France-Presse, when he was kidnapped in November 2012, possibly by forces loyal to President Assad, who then apparently sold him to Islamic State.

An earlier kidnapping in Libya had not deterred him from returning to work as a journalist in the most troubled region in the world.

Yesterday John, a doctor, and Diane, a nurse, who have four other children all younger than Jim and live in New Hampshire, sat in the Radisson Blu hotel in Mount Merrion ahead of their appearence on last night’s Late Late Show.

John’s ancestors came from southeast Ireland, and he wears a gold Claddagh ring. Diane has family connections to Ecuador.

Both speak easily about their murdered son and seem to take strength from the goodness that was in him, a goodness that has been amplified by his death and by people talking about the sort of man he was.

They do not blame Islam for what happened; John says it was “religious confusion or zealotry; I think that group is a stain on the earth.” Diane talks of “the evil side of who we are as people; it’s just sad.”

They are filled with more than the average parents’ love and pride for their son.

“I don’t think we realised what a remarkable person our son grew into,” says Diane.

“He was very humble,” says John.

“I think the more suffering he saw, the more he was compelled to do his work as a conflict journalist,” addes Diane.

Jim grew up in a conventional middle-American family. He appears to have become socially motivated while an undergraduate at Marquette University, a Jesuit college in Milwaukee: “He never looked back after going to Marquette,” says John.

A desire to help, to give, saw Jim for a time teach children in deprived inner-city schools, do the same for inmates in a Chicago jail – he wanted to help “jump-start” prisoners to a better life, says John – and while in Aleppo, Syria, do a whip-round to buy an ambulance.

“His career in journalism allowed him to do all the things he really wanted to do,” says Diane. “He loved to tell stories of people who could not tell their own.”

John: “He told us that he had found his calling.”

Now John and Diane are working to ensure that Jim’s name does not die with him and his legacy is more than an obscene video.

Through the James W Foley Legacy Fund they hope to offer help – emotional support and practical advice – to other American families coping with a hostage situation.

They have huge admiration for Hostage UK, a support organisation founded by Terry Waite which acts as a support and information channel for families and is trusted by the British government.

Unlike some shrill voices in the US, they do not blame their government for what happened. “The enemy is not our government,” says John. “The enemy is Isis and so whatever we say has to be oriented to the enemy. [But] we could have used more help.”