People worldwide were shocked and horrified in August when journalist James Foley was beheaded by a British-accented IS executioner as Foley kneeled resolutely against a barren backdrop of Syrian hills. What is less known is that Foley – along with many other Western hostages – converted to Islam during their captivity, which apparently meant little to their merciless captors.
The behind-the-scenes story of his ordeal was documented by The New York Times through interviews with five former hostages, local witnesses, relatives and associates of the captives, and a group of advisers who made trips to the Middle East to attempt to free them.
Some details were provided to The Times by a former member of IS who was originally housed in the prison where Foley was kept, and who provided additional details about his confinement.
At least 23 foreign hostages from 12 countries have been kidnapped by Syrian insurgents, sold or handed over to IS, and held underground in a prison somewhere in proximity to the Syrian city of Raqqa.
Foley was an American freelance journalist filing for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse. He and his fellow hostages were often beaten and subjected to waterboarding, according to The Times. For months, they were starved and threatened with execution by one group of fighters, then transferred to another terrorist group that gave them improved treatment and even considered freeing them.
The prisoners played games to pass the time, but as conditions got worse they turned on each other.
Foley converted to Islam soon after his capture and adopted the name Abu Hamza, according to The Times. His conversion was confirmed by three other recently released hostages, as well as by his former employer.
“I recited the Quran with him,” Jejoen Bontinck,19, of Belgium, told The Times. Bontinck spent three weeks in a cell with Foley. “Most people would say, ‘Let’s convert so that we can get better treatment.’ But in his case, I think it was sincere.”
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