American journalist James Foley was kidnapped in northern Syria two years ago while freelancing for wire service Agence France-Presse and Boston-based online news site GlobalPost.

He was kidnapped as he left an Internet café in Binesh, Syria, on Nov. 22, 2012. The car the 40-year-old freelancer was riding in was stopped by four militants in a battle zone that Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were fighting over.

On Tuesday, the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, posted a video on YouTube purportedly showing the beheading of Foley. ISIL called the beheading retribution for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

U.S. president Barack Obama issued a statement Wednesday describing Foley as a journalist, son, brother and friend who reported from difficult and dangerous places.

“The entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley,” Obama said. He vowed America “will do everything we can to protect our people.”

Foley, 40, was from Rochester, N.H. He was the son of Diane and John Foley and was the eldest of five siblings.

He worked as a teacher before going to Northwestern University in Chicago to study journalism. He graduated in 2008 and had been stringing for various publications ever since.

His parents mounted a Free James Foley campaign and worked tirelessly for his release. They spoke about their son shortly after Obama’s comments on Wednesday.

His mother said one of the reasons Foley was interested in conflict journalism was because his brother was in the United States Air Force and based overseas.

His father described their late son “a stand-up guy” and “never a slacker.”

Diane Foley said he was a courageous, compassionate and fearless journalist, “brave and strong to the end.”

“He was just a hero,” she said.

Both thanked the public for its prayers which they believe their son could feel until the end.

They reiterated calls to spare the lives of the other hostages.

The militants have also threatened to execute a second U.S. reporter, Steven Sotloff, who went missing last August.

Other missing or murdered journalists

The kidnapping and beheading of Foley has drawn attention to the plight of reporters working in dangerous places.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the murder of Foley, describing it as a “barbaric act.”

The non-profit organization says that more than 80 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria and estimated that about 20 are currently missing, mainly held by ISIL.

In its latest annual report, the committee described the kidnapping of journalists as unprecedented and largely unreported.

Seventy journalists died last year in 10 of the deadliest countries including Iraq, the Philippines, Russia, Algeria and Syria.

Thirty journalists have died this year, including five killed in Syria, making that country the deadliest place for reporters.

Click here to view the committee’s annual report.