James Foley, an American photo journalist was first kidnapped and later executed by ISIS militants recently over ongoing tension in Syria. As a freelancer chasing a critical story independently without guarantee of a paycheck, he was aware of the fact that this was life threatening. This is neither the first nor the last time that such inhuman butchery has been perpetrated on journalists doing their job. We have seen many such executions before, primarily by Islamic militants.

A recent report by the Times by Rukmini Callimachi determined that over fifty hostages have been taken by Al Qaeda over the past 5 years. Many have been released on ransom for substantial sums paid by European governments.

The so called holy war fought by ISIS has engulfed huge number of innocents. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with at least 70 killed during the conflict.

Another captive American freelance journalist, Steven Sotloff, was also beheaded on September 3. American efforts for his release came to naught President Obama’s pledges that the US will deal with Salafist-Wahabi militants with an iron hand as their existence is real threat to the world.

Seizing captives to carry out their nefarious designs, to harass and demand ransoms is turning into a usual weapon in the armory of terrorists, sparing no journalist, tourist and humanitarian worker in the militants’ operative zone. Captured in Syria in November 2012, Foley was detained for nearly two years. The ISIS militants reportedly demanded 100 million Euros in ransom before he was killed. Foley and Sotloff are among 32 journalists killed in 2014, majority among them were killed in conflict zones. Such ransom demands are widespread practice among militants to raise funds in the recent years.

The US has launched air strikes against ISIS in the last month to destroy their extreme agenda of violence and protect the minorities like Kurds in Northern Iraq and Yazidis. The militants claimed that they decapitated Foley and Sotloff in retaliation to American air strikes. There exists a strong argument that the United States in someway is the sole responsible factor for the demise of the two journalists, either by not paying ransom or because of air strikes against the militants. There is also a rumour that ISIS wanted the Neuroscientist of Pakistani origin, Aafia Siddiqui (undergoing 86 years jail sentence in US), to be swapped for Foley, which the US did not agree to.

Historically, political kidnappings have remained a key form of detentions made during guerrilla warfare. The United Nations claimed that $30 million was disbursed in ransom for political detentions in Latin America in 1973 alone. Not only journalists humanitarian workers suffer the same fate.

In a statement President Obama said furiously, “Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers, ISIS has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. The United States will continue to do what we must do to protect our people”, that is to “hit them harder”. He said, “It’s not only that we’re going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men.”

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Arab states initiated fresh discussions for the protection of freelance journalists reporting from war zones. There is no straightforward answer on how to deal with terrorist extortion. The US and Britain refuse to pay ransoms to discourage the use of such leverage by kidnappers. If everybody refused to pay, terrorists may not have had the motivation to take people hostage. At the G8 summit last year, Western countries were in agreement to not make ransom payments, however some European governments continue the practice.

However, these endeavors have not led to any actions, and nothing has been incorporated into international covenants, not even by amending the original Geneva Convention of 1949. Freelancers to a greater extent are imperiling their lives to violence once they step in conflict stricken zones. They have limited access to resources, training and protective clothes among other problems.

One offshoot of the beheading of Foley and Sotloff is that the US may rethink its policy on Syria and Iran (to deal with ISIS wing in Iraq) and might have a strategic alignment with these countries to tackle the menace of ISIS. Your enemy’s enemy can be a useful friend in real politic.

In the meantime, we can honor the many fearless journalists, humanitarian workers and civil servants who stake their lives in conflict zones, and grieve for James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the many others who have lost their lives and offer our condolences to their families.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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@JanjuaHaroon