The beheading of freelance journalist James Foley has forced a new debate between the longtime US and British refusal to negotiate with terrorists, and Europe and the Persian Gulf’s increasing willingness to pay ransoms in a desperate attempt to free citizens. The dilemma: How to save the lives of captives without financing terror groups and encouraging more kidnappings.
By paying ransoms, governments in the Mideast and Europe have become some of the biggest financiers of terror groups. By refusing to do likewise, the US and Britain are in the thankless position of putting their own citizens at a disadvantage.
Foley’s captors, the Islamic State militants, had for months demanded $132.5 million (100 million euros) from his parents and political concessions from Washington. They got neither, and the 40-year-old freelance journalist from New Hampshire was savagely beheaded within the last week inside Syria, where he had been held since his disappearance in November 2012.
Islamic State militants also demanded $132.5 million for two other American hostages they are holding in Syria, a person close to the situation said late Thursday.
Extremists called Foley’s death a revenge killing for the 90 US airstrikes, as of Thursday, that have been launched against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq since Aug. 8. But the ransom demands began late last year, even before the Islamic State, one of the world’s most financially thriving extremist groups, had begun its brutal march across much of western and northern Iraq.
“They don’t need to do this for money,” said Matthew Levitt, a counter-terror expert at the Washington Institute think-tank. “When you ask for $132 million, for the release of one person, that suggests that you’re either trying to make a point … or you don’t really need the money.”
A senior Obama administration official said Thursday the Islamic State had made a “range of requests” from the US for Foley’s release, including changes in American policy and posture in the Mideast.
At the State Department, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the militancy, which controls a swath of land across northern Syria and Iraq, has collected millions of dollars in ransoms so far this year alone.
“We do not make concessions to terrorists,” Harf told reporters. “We do not pay ransoms.”
“The United States government believes very strongly that paying ransom to terrorists gives them a tool in the form of financing that helps them propagate what they’re doing,” she said. “And so we believe very strongly that we don’t do that, for that reason.”
The issue of payments by American families or US corporations is now under debate within the Obama administration, according to a US official familiar with the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss them by name.
The USA Patriot Act prohibits any payment or assistance to terror groups that could boost their support. The families of three continued…