Earlier this summer, American Special Forces attempted to rescue photojournalist James Foley and other hostages held by Islamic State militants in Syria, but the mission failed because the prisoners were not at the suspected location.
According to the Washington Post, the United States acted after six other Western hostages were previously let go by the extremist group and had been debriefed by intelligence officers. White House officials said the operation involved several dozen US commandos engaging militants in battle – one American was wounded – but that Foley and the others could not be saved.
“It was not ultimately successful because the hostages were not present at the location of the operation,” a senior administration official said, speaking anonymously to the Post. “We obviously wish this had been successful.”
Officials did not reveal where the operation took place, nor did they offer a more precise timeframe outside of “earlier this summer.”
The news follows the revelation that Islamic State militants sent an email to threatening to kill Foley to his former employer, the Boston news outlet Global Post, just one week ago.
The White House was reportedly aware of the threat, but no negotiations were ever held with the extremist group.
Speaking with another local media outlet, NewsCenter 5, Global Post president and founder Philip Balboni said the company “received an email from the captors on Wednesday night of last week stating their intention to execute Jim [Foley].”
It’s been widely reported that Foley was working as a freelance photographer for Agence France-Presse when he was kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago, but the 39-year-old was also employed by the Global Post at the time.
An investigation into Foley’s whereabouts was conducted primarily by the Foley family as well as the Global Post, but his location was essentially unknown until video of his execution surfaced on Tuesday.
Noting that the tone of the email was full of rage, Balboni said, “you can see the seething anger. It could have been a bluff and we had to believe it was a bluff. You know when you kidnap someone and hold them for almost two years, you don't do it unless you believe there is value in those hostages."
In another interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Balboni added that one more message was sent to Foley’s family shortly before he was killed.
"We've not released this, but there was one communication after the bombing began that went to the family that stated that Jim would be executed," he said. "We hoped and prayed that it would not. We did everything we could ourselves to convey to them that Jim was just an innocent journalist who loved the Syrian people, who understood Islam and who only wanted to tell the story of the Syrian people."
Meanwhile, multiple sources – all anonymous – told the Guardian that they believe the English-speaking man who beheaded Foley is the leader of British Islamic State members in Syria. A former hostage of the man identified him only as “John,” saying that he is “intelligent, educated and a devout believer in radical Islamic teachings.”
The outlet’s sources described John as the key IS negotiator during a conflict earlier this year, when 11 hostages were released to Turkey after ransoms were paid.
Foreign-born fighters now compose a significant portion of the Islamic State’s ranks. Roughly 500 individuals from the UK – as well as 700 French and 500 Belgians – are believed to have gone to the Middle East to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Earlier on Wednesday, President Obama spoke out against Foley’s murderers, also known as ISIL or ISIS, saying “the entire world is appalled by” his brutal murder.
“Let’s be clear about ISIL,” he said. “They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They’ve murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religions minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.”
"The US will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” Obama added, insisting that, with regards to the Islamic State, “There has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread.”