WASHINGTON (CN) – The family of James Foley — a journalist who was tortured and beheaded by the Islamic State group in 2014 — brought a $200 million complaint Tuesday to hold the Syrian government liable.
Represented by Steven Perles, Foley’s mother, father and three siblings contend that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government “facilitated” the rise of IS from its precursor groups, including the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq.
“The Assad regime provided Daesh with material support at crucial times during its metastasis from an isolated group of terrorists into a quasi-terrorist ‘state’ that subsequently kidnapped, tortured, and beheaded James Wright Foley,” the 21-page complaint says, using an alternative name for IS.
Perles brought the lawsuit under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows civil lawsuits for damages against U.S.-designated sponsors of terror for torture, extrajudicial killing and hostage taking.
Perles did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
As quoted in the complaint, one former Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate official said the Assad government did more than let extremists out of prison to undermine the peaceful revolution that began in January 2011 and stoke an armed Islamic insurgency. “It facilitated them in their work, in the creation of armed brigades,” this unnamed official said, according to the complaint.
“It was a specific, deliberate plan and it was easy to carry out,” the official is also quoted as having said. “There were strong Islamic tendencies to the uprising so it just had to encourage them.”
Masked IS gunmen captured Foley, along with a British journalist, on Nov. 22, 2014, while the pair were returning to the Turkish border from a reporting trek in northwestern Syria.
From there they took Foley to Aleppo, where he “was tortured, including waterboarding and beatings that broke his ribs, which were not allowed to heal properly,” the complaint says.
“Foley was also hung upside down by his shackles, leaving scars on his ankles,” the complaint continues.
After a failed U.S. rescue attempt, IS released a video on Aug. 19, 2014 that showed IS fighter and U.K. national Mohammed Emwazi beheading Foley. IS beheaded another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, one month later.
The complaint describes Foley as “a loving son and brother, a journalist, and a philanthropist.” Foley, who taught elementary school after graduating college, also taught inmates to read and write through a vocational rehabilitation program.
He later obtained a master’s degree in journalism and began his foreign reporting work while embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
After being captured and held for 44 days by Libyan forces while covering the Libyan civil war in 2011 for GlobalPost, Foley was determined to carry on his work and obey an obligation he felt to report on global conflicts up close.
“He showed his bravery and determination by returning to Libya to document the downfall of Muamar Gaddafi, and later to cover the Syrian civil war,” the complaint says.