White House to Allow Families to Negotiate With Terrorists, Pay Ransoms

James Foley
A yellow ribbon hangs on a tree outside the family home of James Foley in Rochester, New Hampshire, on August 20, 2014. Brian Snyder/Reuters

The Obama administration on Wednesday is expected to begin allowing families of hostages taken abroad to negotiate with terrorists without facing criminal prosecution, an issue that increasingly has come into view as members of the Islamic State capture Westerners.

It currently is illegal for the U.S. government to pay ransom to militants under the belief that financing terrorists will increase their power and make Americans a more significant target. But, with a new presidential policy and executive order expected to be announced on Wednesday, families soon will be able to negotiate with captors without fearing punishment by the U.S. government.

"There is a hope and expectation that by implementing many of these recommendations that we can better integrate the resources of the federal government that are devoted to this effort—they are extensive—and that we can improve our ability to communicate with the families of those who were placed in this terrible situation," U.S. Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday.

He continued, saying President Barack Obama continues to believe the United States should adhere closely to a "no concessions policy." To offer concessions to terrorists allows them to fund their operations more effectively and makes citizens around the globe a more significant target, he said.

The administration is expected to form a group of officials from the FBI, Pentagon and State Department to assist families in communicating with terrorists, including sharing classified information with them when necessary, The Washington Post reported.

Multiple U.S. hostages have been killed in the past year by the Islamic State, or ISIS. Holding Western captives for ransom is one of the main ways the terrorist group makes money.

The death of U.S. journalist James Foley last August was the first in a series of high-profile beheadings of western hostages by ISIS. Since his death, the militants have released videos of the executions of other westerners, including American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker Alan Henning and U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.

After her son's death, Diane Foley reportedly said that government officials had threatened her family to stop them from paying a ransom. The threat allegedly came from a prominent military officer who warned the Foleys that paying a ransom to ISIS would support terrorism.

Obama is expected to make the announcement on Wednesday afternoon after meeting with families of American hostages.