Diane Foley, the grieving American mother of slain journalist James Foley, has engaged in a series of conversations with Alexanda Kotey, a British-born Islamic State militant convicted in connection with her son’s brutal murder. The encounters, detailed in Foley’s new book co-authored with Colum McCann, shed light on the complex dynamics between victim and perpetrator, as well as the quest for understanding and reconciliation.
The conversations took place in a windowless conference room at a federal courthouse in Virginia, where Kotey was brought for prosecution in 2020. Foley’s intention was to take a “tiny step” towards reparation, hoping to make Kotey comprehend the pain her family endured while also attempting to listen to his perspective. Despite Kotey’s inability to provide information about James Foley’s burial site, the discussions proved to be profoundly meaningful for Diane Foley.
The case itself is highly unusual, involving a group of British-born Islamic State militants known as “the Beatles” who held Western journalists and aid workers hostage in Syria. James Foley was among the victims who suffered a brutal beheading, orchestrated by Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John.” Kotey and his co-defendant, El Shafee Elsheikh, were captured years later and brought to the United States for prosecution.
Diane Foley’s book not only chronicles her interactions with Kotey but also highlights her disappointment with the U.S. government’s response to her son’s disappearance prior to his murder. She recounts the lack of communication and the warning against paying a multimillion-dollar ransom demanded by the captors. Foley’s advocacy led to a significant overhaul of the government’s approach to hostage cases, including the creation of an FBI-led hostage recovery team and a new State Department special envoy position.
During their conversations, Foley and Kotey shared personal details about their lives. Kotey expressed compassion for the Foley family’s suffering while emphasizing his resentment towards U.S. actions in the Middle East. He described himself as a soldier acting during a time of war, acknowledging his role in James Foley’s captivity but distancing himself from the actual killing. Kotey also shared his own experiences, including the aftermath of an American drone strike that claimed the life of a baby.
The meetings between Foley and Kotey occurred as part of Kotey’s plea agreement, and they provided an opportunity for both parties to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives. Kotey expressed regret for certain actions he had been ordered to carry out and conveyed his desire for peace and eventual repatriation to England.