James Foley may have volunteered to be put to death to spare the lives of fellow hostages, his family said yesterday, as it emerged that the reporter's kidnappers told his parents in an email last week that they were about to kill him.
Criminal investigation into Foley's death
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Criminal investigation into Foley's death
The US Justice Department has opened a federal investigation into the death of journalist James Foley, beheaded by Islamist militants.
Mr Foley's younger brother Michael said he had "no doubt" that his brother would have sacrificed himself, adding: "He's always been that way."
Michael, 38, said: "[He] truly cares more about others than himself. I think he was probably the strongest and most prepared for it. God forbid there's others. But you can see just from the clips, from the video, he wasn't afraid.
"Jim was a hero. He was my hero."
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) told the Foley family in an email on August 12 that the US would "pay the price" for air strikes on Isil targets in Iraq, "the first of which being the blood of the American citizen James Foley".
The email, which also said, "We will not stop until we quench our thirst for your blood", may have been written by "John", the British jihadist who beheaded Mr Foley, according to expert analysis.
Mr Foley's parents, John and Diane, said that despite the grim warning contained in the email, it had given them hope, because it was the first time the kidnappers had been in contact since December.
Isil had demanded £80 million for Mr Foley's release, and his parents had been trying to raise £3 million as a compromise. They hoped the renewed contact would give them a chance to negotiate.
Speaking to NBC television, Mr Foley said: "I actually was excited to see an email, despite the conclusion that they would execute Jim.
"We underestimated that point; I did not realise how brutal they were, and I actually hoped we could engage in negotiations with them if they were willing to send us any sort of communication."
Mr and Mrs Foley also disclosed that they had watched the horrific video of their son's final moments, because "we just needed to know".
Mr Foley's sister, Katie, 26, told Yahoo News: "I don't even know how a human beings can even have that fierce and intense hate for someone else. I don't even understand where that type of hate comes from." Her brother said: "It was just chilling, it was full of so much hate."
The email had several spelling mistakes but showed a good grasp of English grammar, suggesting it was written by a native, but poorly educated, English speaker, according to Dr Claire Hardaker, a language expert at Lancaster University.
It said: "How long will the sheep follow the blind sheppard? As for the scum of your society who are held prisoner by us, they dared to enter the lion's den and where eaten!"
The email, addressed to "the American government and their sheep like citizens", refers to the failure to pay the previous ransom demand or to free Islamist terrorist prisoners, and contains a rant against the "cowardly" US bombing of Isil targets.
"Today our swords are unsheathed towards you," it continues. "Government and citizens alike! And we will not stop until we quench our thirst for your blood!"
It ends by saying that Mr Foley "will be executed as a direct result of your transgressions towards us!". Dr Hardaker said: "There is a lot in the letter to suggest it came from a native speaker of English. Some of the spelling mistakes are very common in native speakers."
As the hunt continued for "John" and two other British captors, nicknamed Paul and Ringo by hostages, who knew the men as "The Beatles", a Washington source claimed the FBI was now "99 per cent certain" it knew John's identity, and had begun a formal criminal investigation into the murder. Eric Holder, the US attorney general, warned the kidnappers that the US has "a long memory".
Michael Foley said there was "more that could have been done" by the US to secure his brother's release, adding: "We are sitting on prisoners, for example, in Guantanamo. It doesn't have to be financial. There's ways to do it. I just feel strongly that more can be done."
Pope Francis telephoned the Foley family, devout Roman Catholics, to comfort them. "We felt very comforted and supported," said John Foley.
The Telegraph, London