Steven Sotloff, the 31-year-old journalist who was beheaded this week by the jihadist group ISIS, was a dual American-Israeli citizen and studied in Israel, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. His connections to Israel and the Jewish community reportedly had been sanitized from the Internet and social media in order to keep the information from his radical Islamic captors.
Sotloff, a grandson of Holocaust survivors who grew up in Miami, made aliyah in 2005 and studied foreign relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, a private college, Ynet reported. He then began reporting from countries throughout the Middle East, returning to Israel for the 2013 Maccabiah Games.
Sotloff was abducted on August 4, 2013, after crossing the Syrian border from Turkey.
A hostage who was held with Sotloff and later released told the Hebrew daily Yediot Acharonot that Sotloff was able to fast last year on Yom Kippur without his captors knowing. “He told them he was sick and did not want to eat, even though that day we were served eggs,” the fellow captive said. He added that Sotloff also was able to pray in a hidden manner, and was able to face Jerusalem by looking which way the Muslims prayed in order to determine the proper direction.
ISIS released online a nearly three-minute video Tuesday, titled “A Second Message to America,” showing Sotloff’s beheading. U.S. and U.K. officials said Wednesday that the video purporting to show an Islamic State terrorist beheading Sotloff in reprisal for U.S. air strikes in Iraq is authentic. “The U.S. intelligence community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizen Steven Sotloff and has reached the judgment that it is authentic,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Wednesday. Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, also told reporters that a preliminary government analysis showed the video released late on Tuesday was genuine.
Sotloff, 31, seems to have been murdered by the same masked man shown killing James Foley in a video released to the world on August 19 and authenticated days later by the U.S. government. In the video, the masked man said, “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State.”
Imagery in the video capturing Sotloff’s fate is similar to that featured in the Foley video: the journalist dressed in orange prison wear, on his knees in a desert somewhere along the faded border of Iraq and Syria.
Foley’s murder shook Washington in August, prompting a national dialogue over the extent Islamic State might be threatening the U.S. homeland. Responding to Foley’s killing, President Obama said the group was a “cancer” that must be rooted from the world through an international effort.
The Obama administration first ordered strikes against the group about two months ago, citing the president’s obligation to protect U.S. assets and personnel on the ground in Baghdad and Arbil, an oil-boom city in the country’s north, home to thousands of American workers. The U.S. military has conducted more than 100 strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq since the campaign began.
Sotloff is the son of Arthur and Shirley Sotloff. Shirley Sotloff has worked in the early-childhood program at Temple Beth Am Day School in Pinecrest, Florida, according to the synagogue website. Last week, Shirley Sotloff pleaded in a video for his captors to have mercy on him.
Sotloff published articles from Syria, Egypt, and Libya in various publications, including Time.com, the World Affairs Journal, and Foreign Policy. He also freelanced for the Jerusalem Post and the Jerusalem Report magazine. Sotloff filed his last dispatch for the Report from Syria about a year ago, shortly before he was taken hostage. He lived in Israel for a short period and played for the Ra’anana rugby club.
Declining to call the beheading an act of war, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki characterized the purported killing as a “horrific terrorist act” against the United States.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement Wednesday said Sotloff “was taken from us in an act of medieval savagery by a coward hiding behind a mask.” Kerry went on to say, “Steven Sotloff’s reporting was as empathetic as his killers are evil. He focused on the stories of average people trapped in war, and documented their day-in and day-out struggle for dignity.”
Sotloff’s mother made an emotional appeal for her son’s life on camera last week, pleading to his captors and claiming that Islam requires they protect the lives of innocent actors.
In the video, Sotloff said he was “paying the price” of American policy in the region. Islamic State holds at least two other American civilians captive, and includes thousands of foreign fighters from the U.S. and Western Europe.
The Islamic State fighter threatened that, should the U.S. and U.K. continue operations against their group, David Cawthorne Haines, a British citizen, would be the next to die.
Obama seeks an international coalition to fight the group, and will dispatch Secretary of State Kerry next week to rally Sunni powers to the cause. Islamic State purports to represent Sunni Islam, but religious and government leaders in Saudi Arabia have said the group is the number one enemy of Islam. (JPost.com and JTA) v
Aggie Grossman, Ilan Evyatar, and JTA contributed to this report.