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BEING ABDUCTED IS LIKE NO OTHER WAR ZONE EXPERIENCE - Terrifying

The mother of James Foley, the kidnapped photographer apparently beheaded by Islamic State militants in Syria, has paid tribute to her son via a Facebook page set up to campaign for his freedom.

Brief and to the point, Diane Foley's statement said that her boy "gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people", and that she had "never been prouder" of him.

It's touching, from-the-heart stuff, although for those who might take comfort in seeing how someone can find eloquence at such a time of suffering, bear in mind that not every family can rise to the occasion.

To many, though, it may also raise the question of why journalists like Mr Foley persist in going to places like Syria, where such fates are an occupational hazard.

Those who ask such questions also often point out that in the internet age, the wars in Syria and Iraq are practically broadcast live anyway via footage placed by activists and combatants alike on social media.

Why therefore, is there any need for Westerners to be doing the same, when they stand out like sore thumbs? Would it no be safer to simply use local Arab stringers and freelancers, of whom there are generally no shortage?

Having put my own family through six weeks of hell once when I was kidnapped in Somalia a few years ago, I can appreciate to some extent the arguments of the stay-at-home brigade (who, I suspect, include some of my own relatives). For being abducted is not like other war zone experiences.

Suffer a beating or a bullet wound, as I once did in Iraq, and as long as it isn't too serious, you can be laughing and joking about it a few hours or days later, sounding like the swashbuckling war correspondent you always hoped you'd become.

Kidnaps, however, with their prolonged stress, force your family to be heroes too. When I languished in a cave in Somalia, my main fear was not just for my own safety, but that one of my parents might suffer a heart attack.

Nonetheless, having had plenty of time to reflect on this during my stint - there wasn't much else to do - I can cite a number of reasons why Western journalists will still seek to put themselves in harm's way.

One is a sense of historical perspective: despite the hideous novelty of Mr Foley's death being broadcast on the internet, journalists have been busily getting killed, imprisoned, kidnapped and generally mistreated since the profession began, and it would be a shame if modern health and safety culture stopped this tradition in its tracks.

Colin Freeman is the Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph


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