The mother of an American journalist who was beheaded by an Islamic State cell dubbed the “Beatles” met three times with one of the jailed terrorists in an effort to carry on her son’s legacy.
“I feel like we can’t break the cycle of violence if we’re not willing to listen to each other,” Diane Foley told NBC News. “I forced myself to do this because I feel like Jim would have wanted this to happen.”
James Foley was killed by the cell’s most notorious member, Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed “Jihadi John”, in August 2014 – an execution that the Islamic State terror group filmed and broadcast to the world. Emwazi was killed in a US drone strike in 2015.
Beatles member Alexanda Kotey, 38, was sentenced to life in prison by the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, in April after admitting her role in the murder of Foley and the killing of three other hostages Americans.
As part of his plea deal, the British national agreed to meet with the families of his victims who wanted to.
Diane Foley said Kotey apologized to her for the pain caused by the loss of her son, but he made it clear at their last meeting on Wednesday that he had no regrets for waging jihad.
“That, to me, is very sad,” she said. “After all the things he went through, and we went through, and the Syrian people – that he had no regrets about being part of this campaign was heartbreaking to hear.”
But in two letters and during their in-person visits, Diane Foley said, Kotey expressed remorse for what her family went through. And while he didn’t directly apologize for the murder of the 40-year-old journalist, his broader apology and openness brought him some comfort.
“It was really good to see,” she said. “He showed humanity, kindness, potential there. That’s why I went back there. There’s an opening.”
The Beatles were a group of ISIS fighters who received the musical nickname from their Western captives because of their British accents. In 2014 and 2015, they took part in the murders of several American, British and Japanese hostages, filming several beheadings.
Foley, a globetrotting freelance correspondent with extensive experience in the Middle East, was kidnapped by terrorists in 2012 while covering the civil war in Syria.
Three of the four band members – Kotey, Aine Davis and El Shafee Elsheikh – are still alive.
Elsheikh, 33, was found guilty following a federal trial in Virginia and will be sentenced later this year. Davis, 38, is imprisoned in Turkey after being convicted of terrorism.
Diane Foley first met Kotey on consecutive days in October after he pleaded guilty to eight counts related to the kidnapping, torture and murder of ISIS hostages. The meetings were all held in a conference room inside the Virginia federal courthouse, where his case was heard. Several people were present during the visits, including prosecutors, FBI agents and defense attorneys.
Diane Foley described the first meeting as “incredibly awkward”. But the second had a different feel.
“He showed me pictures of his family,” she said. “He has three beautiful daughters, all under the age of nine.”
“The tragedy of it all is really everyone lost in this,” she added. “We lost our son, his future, his life. Alexanda lost her family, her country, her freedom.
Diane Foley said she was impressed by the breadth of her interests, from politics to the justice system. He spoke about the oppression of Muslims around the world.
“His mind is engaged. He’s not a stupid person at all,” she said. “It’s a bit sad that he was led in this direction.”
“I asked him if he thought he was brainwashed,” Diane Foley added. “He didn’t like that idea. But he said he let himself succumb to torture and other things when in fact his faith should have told him otherwise.
She hoped that Kotey could provide answers to questions that have haunted her for a long time. Where was his son executed? Where do his remains lie?
But Kotey didn’t shed any light. And he denied having any direct part in torturing or executing Foley.
“He may be telling the truth – I don’t know,” Diane Foley said. “He blames Emwazi. It’s easy to blame it on someone who died.
Diane Foley first spoke about meeting Kotey at a conference last week hosted by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.
Their third encounter left her feeling drained, physically and emotionally. She said she wasn’t sure if she would visit him again, and not just because of the drive from his home in New Hampshire to Virginia.
“I don’t think there’s anything else he wants to say to me,” she said.
Diane Foley also has other things to focus on. In the months following her son’s execution, she founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which defends the freedom of Americans illegally detained abroad and promotes the safety of journalists around the world.
She pays particular attention to the situation in northern Syria, where thousands of men, women and children linked to ISIS are living in what aid groups describe as detention centers and camps. sordid.
“I know it’s a huge undertaking,” Diane Foley said. “But the more we look away, the more I fear it will come back to haunt us.”