James Foley Conspiracy Theory: Beheading Video Is One Year Old, Syrian Official Says

Jonathan Vankin

James Foley was actually killed by Islamic State militants a full year ago, but the horrifying video depicting his beheading by a masked IS member was held back by the terror group until last week, a Syrian government PR flak has said.

The conspiracy theory comes not from a fringe element or obscure web site, but from Bouthaina Shaaban, the top media advisor to embattled Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Shaaban, 61, added that the United Nations has been aware of Foley's death the whole time.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Shaaban (pictured above, left) said that the Syrian government has "definite information" that Foley has been dead since 2013, even though his captors sent an email to Foley's parents just a week before the now-infamous beheading video appeared online, threatening to kill the journalist — implying that he was still alive as recently as a one week before the appearance of the sickening August 19 beheading video.

"James Foley was first arrested by the Free Syrian Army and he was sold to ISIS. You can check with the U.N.," Shaaban said. "James Foley was killed a year ago, not now, they only released the pictures now, but he was killed a year ago. We have definite information, the U.N. has the information."

The Syrian government claim was quickly denied by Phil Balboni, chief of Global Post, the publication that employed James Foley at the time he was captured, and who spearheaded a behind-the-scenes effort to find Foley following his capture in November of 2012.

"This is totally false and contradicted by a very significant body of incontrovertible evidence," Balboni said. "We have multiple eyewitness accounts from hostages held with Jim as recently as last month. It's a disgrace that this was ever broadcast or published."

Those eyewitnesses include freed French hostages Didier Francois and Nicolas Henin, as well as Dutch journalist Daniel Ottosen, who have described seeing Foley in captivity within the past year.

Also, in the video itself, the Islamic State militant who appears with Foley and speaks in a British accent makes reference to "your military air force attacking us daily in Iraq," a situation that was not occurring one year ago. But the U.S. began air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq on August 8 of this year.

Why the Syrian government finds it necessary to issue a conspiracy theory about the James Foley beheading video remains unclear.