Terrorism, Diana Foley and the Islamic State: “Four hours with the militant who killed my son” – BBC News in Serbian

BBC
Diana Foley (right) met with Alexander Koti (left), one of the members of the Islamic State responsible for the death of her son

It was a cold morning in Virginia last year when Diana Foley sat across from the man who kidnapped and helped kill her son, looking him in the face as they sat in a featureless room in the courthouse where he would later be sentenced to life in prison.

When she entered the room, Aleksanda Koti was already there, sitting amid the commotion and noise of FBI agents, defense attorneys, and security guards.

“But it felt like it was just me and him. “We looked at each other and said ‘hello,'” Foley says.

Thoughtful and measured, the weight of the emotions of her experience accentuated the fatigue in her voice as she recounted the moment and all that it encompassed.

“It wasn’t easy to do, but it was important,” she said. “Jim would like me to do this.”

“Jim” was her son, American journalist James Foley.

His murder in 2014, which was claimed by a terrorist cell known as the “ISIS Beatles”, reverberated around the world, heralding the barbarity of the group known as the Islamic State.

The Islamic State has terrorized large parts of Iraq and Syria, forcing millions of citizens to live under brutal rule.

At the height of its dominance between 2014-2017, it became the most feared terrorist group in the world.

James’ death, broadcast on Twitter on August 19, 2014, has become one of the most enduring and recognizable images of the modern age:

A young man kneeling in an orange jumpsuit in the desert. A man in an all-black mask stands menacingly next to him, holding a knife.

Beheading was performed in front of the camera.

The video is called “Message to America”.

Diane Foley
Getty Images
Diana spoke face to face with the man who helped kill her son

Seven years later, two former Britons – Elshafi Elsheik, 33, and Aleksanda Koti, 38 – were convicted in a US court of involvement in the murder as part of a terrorist cell.

Elsheik was sentenced Friday in Virginia.

Koti was sentenced to life imprisonment in April, and then Dajana met him.

The four hours she spent with him were for her a confirmation of faith, forgiveness and commitment to what has now become her life’s vocation after the trauma of her son’s death – the release of hostages around the world.

This is not the life that Dajana, now seventy-two years old, imagined for herself.

Before James went missing in Syria in 2012, she worked as a nurse, but quit in the weeks after his disappearance.

It was not the first time he was kidnapped while reporting.

In March 2011, James and his colleagues were kidnapped in Libya by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, but were released 44 days later.

This time it ended differently.

Alexandra Kotey
BBC
Aleksandar Koti

James traveled to Syria in October 2012 to report on the growing conflict.

Aware of the potential dangers, he maintained regular contact with the family, but Thanksgiving in November passed and Diana had not heard from her son.

Later that month, she received an email from James’ captors.

The terror group said if the family wanted James back, they had to get the US government to release prominent Muslim prisoners or hand over €100 million.

Similar requests were made to the families of other American hostages who will be kidnapped by the terrorist cell – human rights activists Kayleigh Miller and Peter Kessig and journalist Steven Sotloff.

Weeks and months followed, but the family still held out hope that James would “be home by Christmas,” Diana said.

The US government told the Foleys not to negotiate.

According to Diana, they were even threatened with prosecution if they tried to collect the ransom themselves, although the US State Department denied this.

Months passed before the Foleys received another message threatening James’ death after American airstrikes.

“He will be executed as a direct result of your country’s trespass against us,” it said.

She learned about James’s murder from a journalist.

“I thought it was some kind of cruel joke,” she recalls.

In the weeks after James’ murder, the terrorist cell continued to torture, beat, and starve Peter and Stephen.

Kayla died in 2015 – her murder was never filmed.

That year, a US drone strike killed Mohammed Emwazi, a militant believed to be the leader of the group.

But it wasn’t until 2018 that the other two, Elsheik and Koti, were captured by members of the American-backed Kurdish militia in Syria and later taken into American custody.

The families of the kidnapped demanded that the two be extradited to the United States and tried in federal court, instead of being sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“It was very important to us that these people be tried in America and that they be tried fairly,” Diana said.

She said that the path to justice was tiring and difficult.

“It took almost 10 years to get to this point.”

“I wish our countries had cooperated and brought our sons and daughters home instead of having to spend so much time looking for those responsible for their murders… (but) that’s better than nothing,” she said.

James Foley working
Getty Images
James Foley, Diana’s son, as a journalist

Koti’s case, unlike Elšeik’s, did not go to trial.

He pleaded guilty to eight counts related to the kidnapping, torture and beheading of Islamic State hostages in Syria, and agreed to meet with the victims’ families as part of the deal.

Diana accepted.

In that small room, as she stared at him, she felt “more even,” with the man convicted of helping to kill her son, Diana said.

“He still scared me quite a bit, but of course, knowing that I was safe and that he couldn’t hurt me anymore, I had some power,” she said.

“He already did the worst and took my loved one away.”

During the four hours they spent together, she says, she felt sorry for the terrorist who now faces life in prison.

“I wanted Koti to face the horror of what he did,” she said, telling him about the man he killed, the eldest of her five children.

“To understand the goodness he destroyed and why people like James were in Syria. It’s because they care and they want to tell the truth to the world.”

Koti listened quietly and then also talked about his family.

“He said he prayed to his God for forgiveness. He shared a picture of his family, he has small children that he will probably never see again.

“It made me realize how much he lost by following the hate and propaganda. I felt sorry for him for that.”

But he never told Diana where the bodies of the hostages he and his conspirators killed were buried.

They were never ever found.

“And he never said he was sorry. He was somber and respectful of me and talked about remorse,” but he never apologized, she said.

As she turned to leave for the last time, she made a parting comment.

“I told him I hope that at some point we can forgive each other,” she recalled.

She remembers looking at her in confusion and saying, “I don’t have to forgive you for anything.”

Her plea, she explained, was based on her Catholic faith—the basis of her strength and what sustained her.

“I know he doesn’t have to forgive me for anything, but at that moment… I don’t know.”

She paused, searching for words.

“I just feel that, as humans, none of us are perfect. We all do things we regret.”

“If I hate them, they won. They will continue to hold me captive because I am not willing to be different than they were in relation to my loved ones.

“We have to pray for the courage to do the opposite. It’s a hard road to forgiveness, and it’s not a done deal, but that’s what I strive for.”

Diane Foley and her son James Foley
BBC

In the three weeks after James’ murder, Diana founded what she says now gives her purpose in life – the James V Foley Legacy Foundation.

He is pushing for the government to do more to help Americans held hostage abroad.

Her work has also made her politically powerful, and other hostage families curse her as “unstoppable”.

“Governments should watch the backs of our citizens when they travel abroad,” she said.

“They have to be astute and have many tools to use – sanctions, humanitarian aid, vaccines or visas, anything to open humanitarian channels to stop the horror of international hostage-taking.”

Yet despite this, the suffering did not end for her or her family, she admitted.

“It was very difficult for Jim’s siblings, as well as my husband. We will probably forever be paying the toll for everything we’ve been through. All of our families have a lot of post-traumatic stress.”

Family members of other victims said they would not accept Diana’s approach.

“I’ll never forgive them and I’ve come to terms with that,” Bethany Haynes, David’s daughter, told the BBC in April as Elsheik stood trial in court.

As part of the conditions of their extradition to British authorities, neither Koti nor Elsheik will face the death penalty.

“I’m glad about that,” said Dajana.

“They have the rest of their lives to think about what they did.

“They lost their freedom, citizenship, families. Their hatred did not win”.


Additional reporting: Alison Hunter


Watch the video: Journalists who were killed because they are women

Journalists who were killed because they are women
The British Broadcasting Corporation

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