Families of those being held defended their loved ones’ decisions to travel to Syria
Up to 20 Western hostages are being held by the jihadi group that beheaded James Foley.
As well as the journalist Steven Sotloff, who was threatened with beheading by the same man who murdered Mr. Foley, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is holding a number of aid workers, thought to include Italians Vanessa Marzullo, 21, and Greta Ramelli, 20.
Three aid workers employed by the International Committee of the Red Cross are also being held hostage after they were abducted last October.
As fears grew that ISIS could make good on its threat to murder more hostages, families of those being held defended their loved ones’ decisions to travel to Syria.
Ms. Ramelli’s mother Antonella said her daughter had been determined from an early age to look after others, starting by helping out in a retirement home when she was 12. Responding to claims that she should not have allowed her daughter to travel to Syria, Mrs. Ramelli said, “When you hear your daughter say ‘Mamma, in that country they are killing children, I must go and help,’ what can you say?”
“Can you go back on all the teaching and the values you have tried to instil for a lifetime?” she told Italian newspaper Prealpina. “Can you change your daughter, who has these values and has strong ideals about solidarity and human empathy?”
The two women went missing near Aleppo in Syria at the beginning of this month, and yesterday the Italian foreign office declined to comment on whether they were now in the hands of ISIS.
The Red Cross has not released details of the nationality, gender or age of their aid workers currently being held hostage. The three were among a group of seven who were kidnapped, four of whom were released shortly afterwards.
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A doctor from East London who was previously accused of kidnapping western journalists in Syria may hold the key to identifying the jihadist who beheaded James Foley, intelligence sources have disclosed.
Shajul Islam was arrested and charged with kidnapping a British journalist, John Cantlie, in 2012 but was later released after his trial collapsed when Mr. Cantlie was unable to give evidence.
His brother Razul, 21, also travelled to Syria and is currently believed to be fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), the terrorist group which murdered Mr. Foley.
Razul Islam is understood to be on a list of British Jihadis whom the security services are comparing with the footage of Mr. Foley’s killer, a British man known as John described as the leader of a British cell of jihadists known as “The Beatles.”
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A spokesman for the charity said: “Intensive efforts are ongoing behind the scenes to secure the release of the remaining three colleagues, through the ICRC’s broad network on the ground. We cannot provide details about this for the sake of the ongoing safety of our colleagues still abducted.”
Meanwhile former hostages who had been held with Mr. Foley described how he had been singled out for beatings because he was an American.
Didier Francois, a 53-year-old reporter with the French radio station Europe 1, said Mr. Foley was tortured after his captors found pictures on his computer of his brother, who works for the US Air Force.
Mr. Foley was subjected to mock executions, including one in which he was “crucified against a wall.”
Paying tribute to the American, Mr. Francois said: “He was an extraordinary guy – a companion in imprisonment who was very agreeable, very solid.”
Mr. Francois spent eight months held hostage in Syria with Mr. Foley, mostly in underground cells with no natural light.
For two-and-a-half months, Mr. Francois was chained to fellow French hostages, Nicolas Henin, Edouard Elias, and Pierre Torres. Mr. Francois said he had never spoken publicly about Mr. Foley or Mr. Sotloff before because of threats of reprisals.
Mr. Henin paid tribute to Mr. Foley, saying: “James was a very good friend and a great support. He was always there when you were feeling not so well with some kind words. He managed to make seven months of captivity easier.”
Mr. Henin, however, was skeptical about reports that a group of British jihadists nicknamed “The Beatles” were the prime culprits. “If investigators were to go in that direction, they would be misleading themselves,” he said.
Etienne de Malglaive via Getty ImagesAmerican journalist Steven Sotloff (Centre with black helmet) talks to Libyan rebels on the Al Dafniya front line, 25 km west of Misrata on June 02, 2011. Sotloff was kidnapped in August 2013 near Aleppo, Syria and was recently shown on a jihadist video in which fellow U.S. journalist James Foley was executed.
Jeroen Oerlemans, a Dutch journalist who was held hostage in Syria with a British colleague, John Cantlie, for nine days last year before the two men were freed, said Mr. Foley had worked tirelessly trying to secure their release.
He said: “The colleague with whom I was abducted was good friends with James. When we missed our appointment with him, somewhere in Syria, alarm bells immediately went off for Foley. He pulled back across the border to Turkey, and put all his journalistic contacts gathering information on us.”
When the two men were freed by opposition forces, he said: “James was the first to hug me. I did not know him, but because he had been so closely involved with our liberation he knew me well.”
Mr. Oerlemans decided Syria was too dangerous to return to, saying: “You must know very well who you go into business with, your contacts must be 100% reliable. And even then, James was hugely experienced and had those contacts. Yet it happened to him.”