US journalist James Foley beheaded by 'British jihadist'
James Foley's family said the US threatened them over ransom choice. Nicole Tung/Free James Foley

The family of the murdered US journalist James Foley has said they were threatened by the government with legal action if they consider collecting money to pay a ransom to Isis (Islamic State).

The Foleys said the Obama administration officials had shown "little compassion" towards them and the journalist, who was beheaded by a British jihadist in Syria earlier.

"It just made me realise that these people talking to us had no idea what it was like to be the family of someone abducted. I'm sure [the US official] didn't mean it the way he said it, but we were between a rock and a hard place. We were told we could do nothing. Meanwhile, our son was being beaten and tortured every day," Diane Foley, James Foley's mother, told ABC news.

She said a US official, likely a military official working with the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, approached the family at least in three different occasions warning them against paying a ransom.

The family was reportedly told they would face charges for aiding terrorism if they paid a ransom to the Islamist militants.

The US has made it a policy to refuse to pay ransoms to captors from militant organisations, as it would be sponsoring terrorist activities.

The White House has, however, refused to reveal the specifics of the several rounds of the discussions which took place with the family members of the abducted journalist.

"It is a long standing policy of this administration, it was the policy of previous administrations that ransoms should not be paid to terrorist organisations. I'm not going to get into who said what in the context of these individual conversations," said White House spokesperson Josh Earnest.