James W. Foley Legacy Foundation Releases New Data on Americans Held Hostage and Wrongfully Detained Abroad

Shadow of a person through jail bars

WASHINGTON, DC – New information on Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad is being released today by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. According to the data, at least 40 Americans are currently being held in 11 countries. As these numbers include only publicly disclosed cases, it is estimated that many more cases exist that are never made public, demonstrating the continued threat of hostage-taking and wrongful detention Americans face around the world.

The data, collected by JWFLF’s Director of Research, Cynthia Loertscher, also include 103 public cases in which hostages or detainees were released or rescued since 2014 and 28 unresolved public cases where the fate of kidnapped Americans remains unknown. The database also includes an In Memoriam section, which hosts a small number of selected cases, dedicated to those Americans who never made it home. While there are undoubtedly more cases than those that have been made available to the public, this dataset currently represents the largest collection of this information available in one place. The data are available at https://jamesfoleyfoundation.org/american-hostage-advocacy.

“We hope that this new information will raise awareness and apply additional pressure to bring home these Americans, some of whom have been in captivity for many years,” said Diane Foley, president and founder of the foundation named for her son James. “The U.S. government has never created an official database like this, and we are hopeful that making this information available will help mobilize those who can secure the release of these hostages.”

The foundation was created in 2014 to honor the legacy of James Foley, a conflict journalist who was captured by ISIS in 2012 and beheaded in Syria in 2014. It is dedicated to improving the safety and treatment of independent journalists working in dangerous areas, advocating for the freedom of all Americans kidnapped and wrongfully detained abroad, and improving U.S. hostage policy.

“Maintaining a constant focus on the cases of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad is critical,” said Cynthia Loertscher. “While we remain grateful to the U.S. government and third-party actors who’ve made significant strides in bringing many Americans home, this data highlights that hostage-taking and wrongful detention remains an issue that requires continued priority.”

According to the database, Americans are currently being held in Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Niger, Rwanda, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela. Included are Americans held by non-state actors, specifically terrorist organizations, militants, criminal groups, pirates, or unknown captors. Unlawful or wrongful detentions include incarcerations, house arrests, exit and travel bans. Both American citizens and lawful permanent residents are included in the data. JWFLF has previously released two annual reports, “Bringing Americans Home: A Non-Governmental Assessment of U.S. Hostage Policy and Family Engagement,” examining the impact of the U.S. government’s reorganization of its hostage policy in 2015. Read the 2020 version of this report here.