'Beheading' of Reporter in Syria is a War Crime That Highlights 'Chilling' Risk to Journalists

US freelance reporter James Foley (L) on a highway in Libya in 2011 (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Press Release
August 20, 2014

'Beheading' of Reporter in Syria is a War Crime That Highlights 'Chilling' Risk to Journalists

Contact: Amanda Simon, asimon@aiusa.org, 202.680.2866, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) - The apparent execution-style killing by the Islamic State (IS) armed group of a U.S. reporter who went missing in Syria in 2012 constitutes a war crime and highlights the urgent need for all states with influence in the region to ensure other missing journalists are safely released, Amnesty International said today.

A video published online by the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS) purports to show freelance reporter James Foley being beheaded, apparently in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the IS in northern Iraq.

"This shocking video, if genuine, is devastating for the loved ones of James Foley and chilling for the family, friends and colleagues of those journalists who are still missing in Syria and northern Iraq, feared captured by IS militants," said Margaret Huang, Amnesty International USA's Deputy Executive Director of Campaigns and Programs.

"It is a war crime and both those who carried out the killing and those who ordered it must face justice."

"It is imperative that all warring countries and others with interests in the region use all diplomatic means possible to ensure that no more journalists - or others carrying out their legitimate work in the area – are killed for doing their job," said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program. "The militants also claim to be holding another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, and state that his life depends on U.S. President Barack Obama's next move."

"The implication made in the video that journalists are being targeted in revenge for the U.S. government's involvement in Iraq is deeply alarming and increases fears that other hostages may be at heightened risk," Boumedouha continued. "Journalists, like all civilians, are bystanders in armed conflict and must be protected from harm rather than singled out for brutal killings."

Foreign nationals, including journalists, staff of international organizations and religious figures, are among a wide range of individuals targeted by IS for abduction and arbitrary detention.

Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of prominent Syrian human rights lawyer Abdullah al-Khalil, a long-term contact of the organization, who is believed to be held by IS after apparently being abducted outside his office in the north-eastern city of al-Raqqa in May 2013.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.