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Journalist Foley's parents, after call with pope, call for prayer and action

ROME (Reuters) - The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic State fighters.

"We do pray, we beg the international community to help the remaining hostages," his mother, Diane Foley, said in an interview with her husband, John, on MSNBC. "We just pray that they will be set free."

Their plea comes after a long conversation with Pope Francis, who the Vatican said called the couple on Thursday afternoon to offer his condolences and support.

James Foley, who was abducted in Syria in late 2012, was beheaded by a masked member of the Islamic State group in an act filmed in a video released on Tuesday that also threatened a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

The United States has opened a criminal investigation into Foley's death and said the Islamic State is an imminent threat to U.S. interests. President Barack Obama also has called for a united international front to combat the group, which is still holding other hostages.[

Foley's parents said they drew "huge comfort" from their conversation with the pope, who himself was grieving the loss of relatives who died earlier this week in a car crash in Argentina.

A Vatican spokesman said he was able to speak at length with Diane and John Foley with the aid of a Spanish-speaking friend of the family.

"It was a very long, intense conversation," the spokesman said.

As Islamic State fighters have swept through northern Iraq, Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against the violence that has seen thousands of Christians and others, including Shia Muslims and members of the Yazidi sect, killed or driven from their homes.

He said this week that Western countries would be justified in acting to stop the "unjust" aggression.

"Pope Francis, like Jesus, loves, like Jim. He understood Jim's heart," Diane Foley said of her son, who "was able to draw strength from prayer" during his capture.

She said love and compassion had drawn her son to cover the plight of the people in Syria, which has been embroiled in a violent conflict for the past several years.

The couple also said they were establishing a fund in their son's name and said they would continue to call for action from the international community.

"We must stand together," Diane Foley said. "Good and love and all that is free in the world must be together to fight the evil and the hatred."

(Reporting by James Mackenzie in Rome and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Louise Ireland and Bill Trott)

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