Politics & Government

WH won’t say if Foley family was threatened not to pay ransom

The White House wouldn’t say Friday if it told the family of slain journalist James Foley it would face prosecution if it raised money to pay Islamic State militants a ransom for Foley’s release.

Obama administration officials reportedly threatened Foley’s family that it would face criminal charges for supporting terrorism if they paid a ransom to the militants who ultimately beheaded him, his mother and brother told ABC News.

"We were told that several times and we took it as a threat and it was appalling," Diane Foley told the network.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he couldn’t detail conversations between the administration and the Foley family. But he said U.S. policy is that ransoms should not be paid to terrorist organizations.

“We have found that terrorist organizations use hostage taking and ransoms as a critical source of financing for their organization and that paying ransoms only puts other Americans in a position where they're at even greater risk,” Earnest said.

He said that “elements of the U.S. government were willing to take a significant risk and expend significant resources” to secure Foley’s release, noting the U.S. was in contact with more than two dozen countries to gather intelligence that could lead to his rescue. And he said Obama was “so convinced that this was a priority” that he ordered a team of several dozen U.S. Special Forces operators into Syria earlier this summer in an attempt to rescue several American captives, including Foley. Once on the ground, the operators found that the hostages had been moved.