American journalist missing in Syria

An American journalist has been missing in Syria since he was kidnapped more than one month ago, his family said today, less than two years after he was held by government forces in Libya while covering that country’s civil war.

Relatives of James Foley, of Rochester, New Hampshire, said he was kidnapped in north-west Syria by unknown gunmen on Thanksgiving Day.

The 39-year-old has worked in a number of conflict zones around the Middle East, including Syria, Libya and Iraq. He was contributing videos to Agence France-Press while in Syria.

Mr Foley’s disappearance highlights the risks to reporters seeking to cover the civil war from inside Syria.

The Syrian government rarely gives visas to journalists and often limits the movements of those it allows in. This has prompted a number of reporters to sneak into the country with the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. Some have been killed or wounded while others have disappeared.

Mr Foley and another journalist were working in the northern province of Idlib when they were kidnapped near the village of Taftanaz on November 22. He had entered Syria a short time earlier.

Media outlets refrained from reporting on his kidnapping until his family released their statement. The other reporter’s family has requested that their name is not made public.

Mr Foley’s family said they have not heard from him since.

“We want Jim to come safely home, or at least we need to speak with him to know he’s OK,” said his father, John Foley, in the online statement.

“Jim is an objective journalist and we appeal for the release of Jim unharmed. To the people who have Jim, please contact us so we can work together toward his release.”

The chairman of Agence France-Press, Emmanuel Hoog, said in a statement that the news agency was doing all it could to get Mr Foley released.

“James is a professional journalist who has remained totally neutral in this conflict,” Mr Hoog said. “His captors, whoever they may be, must release him immediately.”

In April 2011, Mr Foley and two other reporters were detained by government forces in Libya while covering that country’s civil war. They were released six weeks later. South African photographer Anton Hammerl was shot during their capture and left to die in the desert.

“I’ll regret that day for the rest of my life. I’ll regret what happened to Anton,” Mr Foley told the Associated Press at the time. “I will constantly analyse that.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Syria was the most dangerous country in the world for journalists in 2012, when 28 reporters were killed.

Those who lost their lives include award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier, photographer Remi Ochlik and Britain’s Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin. Also, Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died after an apparent asthma attack while on assignment in Syria.

Last month, NBC correspondent Richard Engel and his crew were detained by pro-regime gunmen near where Foley was kidnapped. After his release, Mr Engel said they escaped unharmed during a firefight between their captors and anti-regime rebels.

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