Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Video shows ISIS killing second U.S. journalist in two weeks

WASHINGTON — Ignoring his mother's plea for mercy, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria posted a video Tuesday showing the beheading of Steven Joel Sotloff, the second American journalist executed in two weeks by the extremist group in reprisal for U.S. airstrikes against its fighters in northern Iraq.

Sotloff's slaying was certain to add new pressure on President Barack Obama to devise a strategy for dealing with the brutal group in its sanctuary on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq. Obama said last week that his administration had not yet developed a plan, triggering widespread criticism.

Sotloff, 31, of Miami appeared to have been executed within the past two days because his killer referred to U.S. airstrikes that on Sunday helped Iraqi forces break a 2-month-long ISIS siege of Amerli, a town populated by minority ethnic Turkmen.

He also appeared to have been killed by the same suspected British militant who had beheaded American freelance photojournalist James Foley, 40, of Rochester, N.H., on Aug. 19. The Foley video ended with the militant threatening to kill Sotloff unless Obama halted U.S. airstrikes, which total more than 120 since Aug. 8.

Bernadette Mehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said U.S. intelligence officials were working "as quickly as possible" to verify the authenticity of the video. A statement issued by Barak Barfi, a Sotloff family spokesman, appeared to confirm that it was genuine.

"The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately," the statement said.

The video of Sotloff's slaying was first detected by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private organization that monitors extremist Internet postings. Titled "A Second Message to America," it began with a clip of Obama on Aug. 20 condemning Foley's killing and vowing to "act against" ISIS "standing alongside others."

Like Foley, Sotloff then spoke to the camera as he knelt in a bleak, desertlike setting. His black-clad executioner stood at his side, a knife in his left hand, only his eyes left uncovered by the black scarf swathing his face.

"I am Steven Joel Sotloff. I'm sure you know exactly who I am right now and why I'm appearing before you," Sotloff said in a calm, steady voice. "Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for the preservation of American lives and interests. So why is it that I'm paying the price of your interference with my life? Am I not an American citizen?"

It wasn't clear whether Sotloff was speaking his own words or those dictated by his captors. His statement ended in a virtual taunt of Obama.

After Sotloff stopped speaking, the killer standing behind him began to slice into his throat. The video then cut to a picture of Sotloff's bloodied head sitting atop his corpse.

The killer addressed the camera, speaking in what sounded like the same British accent as that of Foley's executioner. He referred to the U.S. airstrikes at Amerli and the Mosul Dam, which Iraqi forces and a Kurdish militia recaptured the day before Foley's execution.

"I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence in continuing your bombings in Amerli and the Mosul Dam. Despite our warnings, you, Obama, have yet again, through your actions, killed yet another American citizen," the militant said. "So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knives will continue to strike the necks of your people."

The video ended with the killer standing next to another kneeling, orange-clad hostage, identified as David Cawthorne Haines, a British citizen, who apparently is next in line to be killed. The militants warned other governments, including Britain, to quit a U.S.-led coalition that has been arming the peshmerga, the militia of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, against ISIS.

Haines reportedly is a former British soldier who worked for a number of humanitarian organizations as a security adviser.

Although British officials have yet to identify the suspect in the Foley killing, British news reports have said he is believed to be Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 24, a former rapper who traveled to Syria last year to join ISIS.

Sotloff was killed a week after his mother, Shirley Sotloff, a Miami teacher, released a video plea for her son's life. She addressed her request directly to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy head of the religious state that ISIS has declared on the huge swaths of northern Iraq and Syria it has overrun since mid June.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration had dedicated "significant time and resources" to trying to rescue Sotloff.

"This is something that the administration has obviously been watching very carefully, since this threat against Mr. Sotloff's life was originally made a few weeks ago," Earnest said. "Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff's family and those who worked with him."

Obama departed Washington on Tuesday afternoon for a NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales, without commenting on Sotloff's execution. While the Russian-backed insurrection in Ukraine was to take center stage, Obama is expected to consult on the summit sidelines with other world leaders on dealing with ISIS.

Obama has strenuously sought to minimize U.S. involvement in Syria, where the more than 3-year-old civil war pits President Bashar Assad's Iran-backed forces against ISIS and weaker insurgent groups, including al-Qaida affiliate the Nusra Front, most of which are also fighting ISIS.

For more than two years, the Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. At least 70 other journalists have been killed and more than 80 have been kidnapped while covering the conflict, according to CPJ figures. The group estimates that about 20 journalists, most of them Syrians, are missing in Syria. They include Austin Tice of Houston, a freelancer for worked for McClatchy, the Washington Post and other news outlets.

Sotloff, a former University of Central Florida student who spent years reporting from Middle Eastern hot spots for Time magazine and other news media, was kidnapped with his driver in Syria near the Turkish border in August 2013. Except for a single phone call to his parents in December, he wasn't heard from again.

Journalists gathered Tuesday afternoon around the Sotloff home in suburban Miami-Dade County, but the house remained quiet and shuttered.

"They are family here," said a stricken Robert Hersh, the executive director of Temple Beth Am, the Sotloff's synagogue. "Our prayers are with the family."

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report.

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