Though reporters can often find themselves in sudden, grave danger – we all know this – it was still rather shocking that James Foley was executed by an agent of The Islamic State Rebels (or ISIS). To add insult to injury, he wasn’t just executed. Thanks to the Web, this is perhaps one of the most public executions in the history of the human race, and we have no idea where it happened… or do we?

Keep in mind: the event – if it is never punished – puts countless reporters around the World in more danger. Not just reporters, but every American abroad.

That’s not OK with another reporter, Eliot Higgins, who is not one to lie down as his colleagues are executed for seeking the truth, so he’s trying to find the location of the execution site with nothing but the YouTube video and Google Maps as references.

Now, if you watched the video, which is not linked in this article, you’ll notice that the background is a sand colored scene in the middle of nowhere. Or so it would seem.

Higgins felt that one fact was undeniably true: the region in which the execution occurred was definitely Raqqa, Syria, which is an ISIS stronghold and reported by other outlets to be the location. This was just the lead he needed.

Like the terrain of Raqqa, the landscape in the video is full of hills, and if you examine Higgins’s screenshot from the execution video, you’ll notice they’re on higher ground due to breaks in the rocks. It seems that there is an impression below the mound where Foley died.


From there, Higgins compared a variety of video stills to satellite imagery. It’s actually not that complicated, and if you’re skeptical, you can check his work on bellingcat.com.

He then drafted a diagram based upon a geographic location, showing his hypothesis of where the execution took place (see below). Just shows you don’t need top-level NSA security clearance or a fancy computer to find people anywhere in the World. Know more.

If you’d like to support real reporters, like Foley and Higgins, who put their lives on the line for nothing but the pure and utter truth, consider donating to or connecting with Reporters without Borders.