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Could Money Have Saved James Foley?

Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When James Foley’s mysterious captors finally contacted his family and revealed their demands in exchange for the American journalist’s release, they were so absurd that the group didn’t appear to be serious about actually freeing Foley, according to GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni and a former U.S. government official.

Foley had been kidnapped while working for GlobalPost in Syria in November 2012, but word from his abductors didn’t come until a year later when his family and news organization received an email “in very serviceable English” demanding 100 million Euros ($132 million), said Balboni.

“We never took that amount seriously,” Balboni told ABC News, who added that from the beginning all information was shared with the FBI. But Balboni said he was never really sure who they were dealing with and “it was impossible to say who was in control during the negotiating process.”

A former U.S. government official with direct knowledge of the American hostages’ cases confirmed the amount -- which is tens of millions more than all of al Qaeda reportedly received from all kidnappings last year -- and said the Islamic extremists also demanded the release of high-profile Muslim prisoners in the U.S.

“They were not substantive demands,” the former official said. The group of hostage-takers, who turned out to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “wasn’t serious about negotiating for money… They knew their demands were unattainable.”

In the past, ISIS -- taking a cue from al Qaeda franchise AQIM in North Africa -- has demanded far less money for European hostages who were eventually released, with the dollar amounts between $2 million and $3 million, current and former officials have told ABC News.

Nicholas Henin, a French journalist who was held alongside Foley for seven months and suffered several mock executions before he was freed in April, said Foley was optimistic about his chances of being freed, even though the United States by policy does not negotiate with terrorists.

“There are two kinds of countries in the world,” Henin said, those like the U.S. and U.K. which do not negotiate with extremists, and those that do.

According to a New York Times report in late July, several European governments have been effectively bankrolling a number of terrorist groups by paying high-dollar ransoms for their captured citizens, to the long-simmering frustration of their American and British allies.

“Aside from state-sponsored terrorism, ransom payments are the greatest source of terrorist funding today,” U.S. Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen said in June, noting that al Qaeda-linked terror groups have collected “tens of millions of dollars in ransoms in the last several years.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner said that “knowing the United States does not negotiate with terrorists” is one of the “greatest protections” for Americans working and living abroad. At the time, Boehner was criticizing President Obama for authorizing the exchange of five mid- to high-level Taliban figures for Taliban captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in June.

In addition, Kelly Ayotte, a Republican U.S. Senator from Foley’s home state in New Hampshire, told ABC News that ISIS, in particular, could not be trusted anyway.

“If you’re dealing with a group that’s willing to act in the barbaric way that ISIS has not only in the case of James Foley, but in the case of what they’ve done to Christians, what they’ve done to women, and to other Muslims in Iraq and in Syria, the brutality of it…how can you have a negotiation with a terrorist group like that?” Ayotte said. “How could you ever trust that that negotiation would lead [to] a result and wouldn’t lead to more violence?”

Americans and Brits have been freed through ransom payments in the past, however that is usually done through the intervention of a private or third party.

Speaking to the public earlier this week, Foley’s parents, John and Diane, said they were considering fundraising to pay ransom right up until their son was killed.

“We were making a video…it’s a video of all Jimmy’s experiences and all of the many people whose lives he touched,” John Foley said. “And that’s going to continue, despite his death.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

People in Gaza Facing Water Shortage Amid Fighting

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- Thursday marked another day of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.  

The cease-fire last week gave Palestinians only a short respite to try to put their lives back in order after a month of fighting. One major challenge they are facing is coping with a water shortage.

Taking a shower or drinking a glass of water is far from easy in Gaza, where officials say they can only pump half the amount of water needed because of structural damage done by Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian Water Authority says more than a dozen water wells and six purification plants have been damaged.

Cut power lines make pumping water erratic, and distribution is difficult with nearly 20 miles of underground broken sewage pipes.

Repairs began during the cease-fire, but renewed fighting means the severe water shortage could lead to a serious health risk for Gazans.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Fox Too Friendly to Be Released into Wild

iStock/Thinkstock(YORKSHIRE, England) -- One fox at the National Fox Welfare Society in England is just too friendly too be released back into the wild -- Pudding is the fox that doesn't quite act like a typical fox.

"Pudding came to us from Yorkshire, hence the name Pudding," NFWS founder Mark Hemmington told ABC News. "She was found on her own at a very young age."

The plan was to slowly integrate Pudding, found around three years ago, into a litter of cubs to prepare her for release back into the wild, but things didn’t go as planned, Hemmington said.

The day before Pudding was set to join the other fox cubs in their pen, a fallen 200-foot tree closed off the entrance, leaving Hemmington to feed the cubs trapped inside and Pudding all alone. Though it took months to remove the tree, no cubs were hurt, and those cubs were able to be released to the wild soon after.

Pudding, on the other hand, was unable to go with them.

"Pudding had no cubs to integrate with and bonded more with me," Hemmington said.

Though similar attempts to assimilate Pudding into the wild were made, none were successful, leaving the friendly fox too domesticated to survive on her own.

Pudding now permanently lives at the site as a resident fox, living with her very own domesticated fox friend, a cub that was found and raised as a pet by a family who passed him on to the NFWS a year later.

As cute as Pudding may be, Hemmington does not suggest owning a fox as a pet, noting that "they are wild animals and that is where I believe they should be."

For now, the NFWS continues to enjoy Pudding's company and her incredibly photogenic fox face.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

US Launches Six More Airstrikes Against ISIS

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military conducted six more airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets near the Mosul Dam in Iraq, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Thursday.

The strikes, which are in support of Iraqi Security Force operations, "destroyed or damaged three ISIL Humvees, one ISIL vehicle, and multiple IED emplacements," CENTCOM said in a statement.

The fighter and attack aircraft used in the strikes all managed to exit the area safely.

Since Aug. 8, CENTCOM says it has conducted 90 airstrikes across Iraq, 57 of which have been near the dam.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

The Social Network that Can't Stop ISIS

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While Twitter cracks down on ISIS propaganda following the execution of journalist James Foley, another social network admits it can't stop militants from migrating to its site.

The team behind Diaspora, a social network without any central leadership, said they were "concerned" about propaganda on their social network, but added that there is little they can do to stop it.

"There is no central server, and there is therefore no way for the project's core team to manipulate or remove contents from a particular node in the network (which we call a 'pod'). This may be one of the reasons which attracted IS activists to our network," a post on the social network's website said.

The site runs on free open source software and allows groups to be divided into pods. Each pod has an administrator and full autonomy to use it however they choose.

Diaspora's creators said they have made a list of accounts related to ISIS fighters and are talking to the administrators of each pod. The diplomatic approach has worked so far for the larger pods, which have followed up by removing ISIS-related accounts and posts, according to Diaspora.

With ISIS-related content dispersed over "a large number of pods," it remained unclear if there was anything else the site's creators could do to stamp out propaganda.

Diaspora was launched in 2010 after a crowd-funding campaign spearheaded by four students in New York.

Twitter had previously been a popular place for ISIS fighters and supporters. However, after gruesome images of journalist James Foley's beheading spread on Twitter earlier this week, the social network said it was actively suspending accounts that showed the graphic imagery.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

US Ebola Patients Out of Hospital but Outbreak Worsens in West Africa

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Even though two American Ebola patients may be out of the woods in terms of their battle with the virulent disease, officials in West Africa continue to grapple with the worst-ever Ebola outbreak that is showing no signs of stopping.

Both Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol have been released from Emory University Hospital after spending weeks in isolation, while being treated for the deadly Ebola virus. Both missionaries had been working in an Ebola ward in Monrovia, Liberia, when they were infected.

During a news conference Thursday, Brantly asked that people who prayed for his recovery also pray for “a quick end to this Ebola epidemic” and not forget about those still battling the disease in West Africa.

Brantly asked that supporters "encourage those in leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end."

In Africa, the outbreak has become dire with more than 1,300 dead and medical centers overrun with patients, according to health officials.

Last week, the World Health Organization said the number of known infections may "vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak," according to staff at outbreak sites.

The disease has affected at least 2,473 people and killed 1,350 in four West African countries. In just two days -- Aug. 17 and Aug. 18 -- there were 221 new suspected Ebola cases and 106 deaths, according to the WHO.

Government officials and medical teams have also had to deal with a lack of medical resources and a population that is afraid and ill-informed about how the virus can be spread.

In Liberia, 37 patients fled an isolation center after a mob raided it for supplies, taking blood-stained mattresses, among other things. After the neighborhood was quarantined, clashes between residents and police injured three in the area, authorities said.

Meanwhile in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, governments have revived the medieval practice of "cordon sanitaire," or a cross-border isolation zone, to try and contain the epidemic.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

ISIS Targeting More Foreigners for Abduction

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Guardian reports that Islamic State militants have abducted at least 20 foreigners in Syria, including four in recent days.

Those taken hostage by the extremist group are all reporters, photographers or aid workers.

In the latest abductions, militants grabbed a Dane, a Japanese national and two Italian women in or near the Syrian city of Aleppo, one of the flashpoints in the government's war against rebel forces that include al Qaeda and ISIS.

According to the Guardian, some of the foreigners taken hostage have been swapped for heavy ransoms, which boosts ISIS' coffers as it has spread its reach far into Iraq.

One of the most high-profile abductions was American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded on a video posted Tuesday that ISIS claims was in response to U.S. airstrikes against its forces near the Mosul Dam.

Unless, the U.S. ends its attacks, the group has also threatened to kill Steve Sotloff, another American journalist, who was taken hostage near the Syrian-Turkish border.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Netanyahu Says No New Cease-Fire Until Hamas Stops Attacks

Uriel Sinai/Getty images(JERUSALEM) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Hamas leaders were legitimate targets, as the two sides resumed hostilities following the abrupt end to an earlier cease-fire extension.

There were reports that Mohammed Deif, the top leader of the militant group, escaped an Israeli airstrike in Gaza but that his wife and seven-month-old son were killed.

Three consecutive cease-fires had raised hopes that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo could come to a long-term truce. However, a Hamas rocket attack on Israel Tuesday followed by retaliatory airstrikes led to the diplomats being called back to their respective homelands.

Netanyahu suggested Wednesday that the conflict, which began on July 8, will continue until Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel.

He promised that Hamas "will be hit back sevenfold" for every missile the group fires.

That has been the case over the past six weeks, with Palestinian deaths nearing 2,000, while Israeli fatalities number about 67.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

"New York Times" Reporter Ordered to Leave Afghanistan

iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- A day after he was told not to leave the country, a New York Times reporter who wrote a potentially explosive story was given 24 hours to leave Afghanistan.

As a result, Matthew Rosenberg becomes the first American journalist to be expelled from Afghanistan since before the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001 to oust the Taliban.

What started all the brouhaha was Rosenberg's article that top Afghan leaders with strong ties to the military are using the threat of a possible coup to spur presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to reach a compromise over the disputed election results.

An audit of all eight million ballots is being conducted following Abdullah's allegation of massive voter fraud. The preliminary tally following the run-off election had Ghani far ahead of his challenger.

The Afghan attorney general who ordered Rosenberg's expulsion contends the reporter's account "is considered divisive and contrary to the national interest, security and stability of Afghanistan," and is falsely attributed to "high-level government officials."

Rosenberg says he stands by his story. He also refused to divulge his sources, which likely led to him getting kicked out of Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai also supports Rosenberg's expulsion. A statement from Karzai's office said, "This kind of article should not be allowed" and that the Times "showed foreign interference and conspiracy in order to destabilize Afghanistan."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

James Foley's Boss Says Kidnappers Had Sent Threatening Emails to Foley's Family

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- The President and Founder of GlobalPost, the news organization for whom James Foley worked when he was abducted in 2012, said in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday that the Foley family had received a threatening email from Foley's kidnappers prior to his death.

The email, Philip Balboni said, was, "full of rage against the United States for the bombing." GlobalPost had, "been working on this case for almost two years," he said, noting that there were investigators in both the Middle East and Europe investigating Foley's whereabouts.

Balboni added that GlobalPost and the Foley family had received previous emails from the kidnappers, the first of which was in November 2013. "They weren't very frequent communicators," Balboni said, stating that the perpetrators ,"established decisively for us that they were holding Jim Foley." That, Balboni said, "was a milestone moment...and they stopped communication until very recently."

Balboni added that GlobalPost was "devastated by his loss," but that Foley's, "courage and commitment to tell the important stories of war and human tragedy will stand forever as a shining example to all reporters and we hope to all people who believe in a free press."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

US Military Conducts More Airstrikes Near Mosul Dam

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) -- The U.S. military conducted 14 more airstrikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam on Wednesday continuing its support of Iraqi security force operations.

U.S. Central Command said that the strikes were launched using fighter, attack and remotely-piloted aircraft. Six Humvees, three improvised exclusive device emplacements, one mortar tube and two armed trucks in possession of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were destroyed or damaged in the strikes.

The Mosul Dam was retaken by Iraqi forces, according to the Department of Defense. Since Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command says it has conducted a total of 84 airstrikes in Iraq, 51 of which were in support of Iraqi forces near the dam.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

James Foley Punished for Suspected Escape Plans, Fellow Hostage Says

Obtained by ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Before the murder of American James Foley was captured on video and posted online recently, the journalist once suffered “brutal punishment” because his captors believed he was planning to escape, a former fellow hostage told ABC News.

“James was a bit punished for a presumed attempt to escape, but it had no real chance,” French freelance reporter Nicolas Henin told ABC News, after saying he once attempted to escape himself but was caught after wandering in the Syrian countryside for a few hours.

Henin said Foley was met with “brutal punishment” inspired both by his captor’s suspicions and, as Henin put it, “the American war on terror.” Out of respect for Foley’s parents, Benin declined to provide details about Foley’s punishment.

Henin said he was captured last year and held by ISIS for 10 months – seven of which he spent alongside Foley before Henin was released this April. He didn’t say exactly when the violent incident with Foley took place, but it was while Henin was also in captivity.

Tuesday a gruesome video surfaced online showing a self-professed ISIS militant beheading Foley in retaliation for recent U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq.

Henin said that for him, watching the video was “extremely shocking” because he so easily could have been in Foley’s place.

“For instance, the shoes that he was wearing when he was taken to this place in the desert, I wore them. We had few shoes that we were using to go to the bathroom and we were sharing them,” Henin said.

Foley, Henin said, was always optimistic about his chances of being freed, even though the United States does not negotiate with terrorists by policy. Henin said eventually a large group of hostages from many countries had been released, leaving the Americans together.

The U.S. and the U.K., Henin said, “do not negotiate with jihadists” – a statement that echoed the findings of a New York Times report in late July that said that while European governments regularly pay ransoms to terror groups to recover their citizens, the U.S. and U.K. refuse.

In Foley’s last moments, when hope must have run out, Henin also recognized Foley’s bravery in the video.

“That is someone, I mean, a real man,” Henin said. “Many people would’ve freaked out and [been] terrified because he knew very well what was going to happen to him… But [he] was still standing up, looking forward and speaking with a clear voice.”

President Obama said Wednesday that the whole world was “appalled” by ISIS’s actions and vowed to continue to work to protect Americans everywhere. Hours later, the U.S. military announced it had continued bombing runs against ISIS targets.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

State Department Offers Rewards for Information on Leaders of Terrorist Group Based in Pakistan

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department offered new rewards for information on four leaders of the Haqqani Network terrorist organization on Wednesday as part of its Rewards for Justice program.

The Department of State says it has authorized rewards of up to $5 million each for information that leads to the capture of Aziz Haqqani, Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, Yahya Haqqani and Abdul Rauf Zakir and up to $10 million for information on the group's leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. The network, founded in the late 1970s, is allied with al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban and cooperates with other regional terrorist organizations.

The terrorist organization is based on North Waziristan, Pakistan and conducts cross-border attacks in Afghanistan, the State Department says.

The Haqqani Network was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2012.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

‘Apparent’ That James Foley Executioner Is British, Intel Agencies Race to ID Killer

Obtained by ABC News(LONDON) -- The White House said Wednesday the video showing the murder of American journalist James Foley at the hand of an Islamic militant “is authentic,” a determination that came hours after a top British official said it was “apparent” the masked executioner was from the United Kingdom.

“The U.S. intelligence community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said. Sotloff is shown but not harmed in the video.

U.S. and British intelligence officials continue to hurriedly analyze the video in hopes of identifying Foley’s killer, who a top British official said appeared to be from the United Kingdom.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron interrupted a vacation and returned to London for an emergency ministerial meeting to discuss a response to the video.

“We’re very concerned by the apparent fact that the murderer in question is British and we are urgently investigating -- agencies on both sides of the Atlantic -- first of all looking to authenticate the video, to make sure that it is genuine, sadly it appears to be, and then to see if we can identify the individual in question,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told ITV News British.

The gruesome video, released online Tuesday, appeared to show an armed militant, who identified himself as with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, beheading Foley. Before his death, Foley delivered a halting, potentially coerced statement condemning U.S. military efforts against ISIS, and the figure clad in black spoke directly to President Obama with what seemed to be a British accent.

“Today your military air force has attacked us daily…Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims,” the figure says in the video.

After the figure in black kills Foley, he threatens another American hostage, Steven Sotloff, saying, “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

Prior to the video’s release, the U.S. military launched dozens of airstrikes on ISIS targets in support of a Kurdish and Iraqi military offensive against the terror group at and around the Mosul Dam, eventually pushing the extremists off the key piece of infrastructure.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said Tuesday that U.S. intelligence agencies were working “as quickly as possible” to determine the video’s authenticity, but said if real, “we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist.”

GlobalPost, the news organization for which Foley worked when he was abducted in November 2012, said Wednesday that the FBI told Foley’s family that preliminary analysis did not lead them to doubt the video was real.

In a statement posted on a Facebook page for Foley, his mother appeared to confirm that the man in the video was her son, saying the family has “never been prouder” of Foley, who “gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Top officials in the U.S. and the U.K. have long been aware of fighters from their nations joining ISIS. Officials have estimated that ISIS has managed to recruit more than 12,000 foreign fighters to their cause -- including more than 400 Brits and at least 100 Americans.

“Yes, we’ve been saying for years that part of the problem here, part of the reason this matters to us, is because there are significant numbers of British jihadists inside these organizations, learning skills, being brutalized, if you like, by their experiences in Iraq and Syria, many of whom will come back to the U.K. if they’re able to at some point and who pose a threat to us here, some of whom may be sent back here by ISIL (ISIS) for the purpose of conducting attacks on the West,” Hammond said. “We know that it is ISIL’s intention to launch attacks on the west when it is able.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Body of Tourist Slain in Bali Returns to United States

Photodisc/Thinkstock(BALI, Indonesia) -- The body of a U.S. woman found stuffed inside a suitcase in Bali is back in Chicago, while her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend remain on the Indonesian island, accused of killing her.

Heather Mack, 18, and her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, 21, were arrested on Aug. 13, one day after Sheila von Wiese-Mack’s body was found stuffed inside a silver suitcase. That suitcase was discovered in the trunk of a cab outside the upscale St. Regis Resort in Bali’s exclusive Nusa Dua district, where the relatives were vacationing.

Heather Mack, who says she’s two months pregnant, claims an armed gang killer her mother, and that she and Schafer managed to escape after being kidnapped by the same gang.

But investigators say surveillance video shows the mother and daughter arguing in the hours before she died. The daughter and her boyfriend later called for a taxi, placing several suitcases inside before checking out from the hotel, local police said.

The FBI is in Bali investigating.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio