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ISIS Beheadings Prompt Obama to Review Hostage Policy

Officials Search for Clues in ISIS Video of Peter Kassig’s Death 2:22

WASHINGTON — With terrorists beheading Americans, President Barack Obama has ordered a review of how the United States responds when citizens are taken hostage overseas. The review comes as some family members of those killed have complained that the United States did not take enough action in an attempt to save their loved ones. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama ordered the review of recovery efforts over the summer given “the extraordinary nature of some of the hostage takings that we’ve seen this year.” Earnest said the review will not include the United States’ longstanding policy of refusing to pay ransom, which stands in contrast to many other governments.

“The president continues to believe as previous presidents have concluded that it’s not in the best interest of American citizens to pay ransoms to any organization, let alone a terrorist organization,” Earnest said. “And the reason for that is simple — we don’t want to put other American citizens at even greater risk when they’re around the world.” On Sunday, ISIS released a video showing they had decapitated American aid worker Peter Kassig following the beheading deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff earlier this year. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Tuesday that a “small number” of U.S. citizens are still being held by ISIS, but refused to provide a specific number.

Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday that she hopes families of hostages will be part of the White House’s review. “I think it’s very hard for people outside to this to understand the problems we’ve encountered,” Diane Foley said. While she didn’t say whether or not she agrees with paying a ransom, she acknowledged that it's a tricky position and there remains no substantive data saying that paying terrorists for hostages actually decreases kidnappings. “That’s one of the things I hope Jim’s foundation can do is actually research this issue and see if there’s any data that shows this is the case,” she added.

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— NBC News and The Associated Press