After James Foley's beheading by the Islamic State militant group two months ago, the American's Catholic background made headlines.
But in a massive, 5,000-word story Sunday, The New York Times reported that Foley converted to Islam soon after he was taken hostage.
The Times quoted 19-year-old Jejoen Bontinck of Belgium — identified as "a teenage convert to Islam who spent three weeks in the summer of 2013 in the same cell as Mr. Foley":
Mr. Foley converted to Islam soon after his capture and adopted the name Abu Hamza, Mr. Bontinck said. (His conversion was confirmed by three other recently released hostages, as well as by his former employer.)
“I recited the Quran with him,” Mr. Bontinck said. “Most people would say, ‘Let’s convert so that we can get better treatment.’ But in his case, I think it was sincere.”
Former hostages said that a majority of the Western prisoners had converted during their difficult captivity. Among them was Mr. (Peter) Kassig, who adopted the name Abdul-Rahman, according to his family, who learned of his conversion in a letter smuggled out of the prison.
Only a handful of the hostages stayed true to their own faiths, including Mr. (Steven J.) Sotloff, then 30, a practicing Jew. On Yom Kippur, he told his guards he was not feeling well and refused his food so he could secretly observe the traditional fast, a witness said.
Those recently released said that most of the foreigners had converted under duress, but that Mr. Foley had been captivated by Islam. When the guards brought an English version of the Quran, those who were just pretending to be Muslims paged through it, one former hostage said. Mr. Foley spent hours engrossed in the text.
His first set of guards, from the Nusra Front, viewed his professed Islamic faith with suspicion. But the second group holding him seemed moved by it. For an extended period, the abuse stopped. Unlike the Syrian prisoners, who were chained to radiators, Mr. Foley and Mr. (John) Cantlie were able to move freely inside their cell.
Given the circumstances, however, should Foley's "conversion" really be presented as a fact? That was my question as I read the story.