In what is becoming an increasingly public negotiation over the fate of an American journalist, the mother of Steven J. Sotloff, who is being held by the militant group Islamic State, released a video Wednesday pleading for his release.
Shirley Sotloff, a Miami-area teacher, appears in a professionally produced video and speaks directly to Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
"As a mother I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over," she says. "I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the prophet Mohammed who protected people of the book."
Steven Sotloff, 31, who once attended the University of Central Florida, was captured more than a year ago in Syria. He appeared at the end of a video released last week by ISIS that showed the execution of another American journalist, James Foley. In the video, a black-hooded militant forces Sotloff to kneel, grabs his collar and declares, "The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision."
Authorities are trying to track down the man in the video, who they say has an accent that indicates he is from London.
There had been a news blackout on Sotloff, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, but the video released last week initiated a flurry of interest in his case.
Several U.S. officials, including U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, say they have been working behind the scenes to find out more about Steven Sotloff and try to secure his release.
"This is a tragic situation and we have seen that (ISIS) has no respect for human life," Ros-Lehtinen said.
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters he did not know whether President Barack Obama had seen Shirley Sotloff's video, but he said the administration is "deeply engaged" in trying to gain release of all Americans held hostage in the Middle East.
"She obviously, as is evident from the video, feels desperate about the safety and well-being of her son, and understandably so, and that is why our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sotloff's family at this very difficult and trying time."
With the new video, Shirley Sotloff used the same medium as his captors to communicate.
"I want what every mother wants: to live to see her children's children," she says. "I plead with you to grant me this."
Video is one of the many methods that families and terrorist groups have used to communicate with each other and with the rest of the world, at times going around official government channels.
This week, according to the Guardian newspaper, ISIS started its own hashtag on Twitter, #StevensHeadinObamasHands, to draw attention to the fact that it still holds Sotloff and has threatened to kill him unless Obama stops airstrikes against ISIS targets.
Shirley Sotloff's video was provided to the New York Times by lawyers for the family, said Bruce Headlam, managing editor for video with the news company. The publication verified that the Arabic subtitles were accurate and edited some slides into the video to provide context to what Sotloff was saying.
The video also appeared on the Al Arabiya television network.
Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.
I am Shirley Sotloff. My son Steven is in your hands.
Shirley Sotloff used video — the same medium used by his captors — to communicate. It was widely retweeted by ISIS supporters with her face blurred because their ultraconservative interpretation of Islam doesn't allow a woman's face to be shown.
I am sending this message to you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi al-Hussaini, the caliph of the Islamic State.
Baghdadi's claim to authority has not been recognized by most Muslims. In addressing him as caliph of the Muslim world, Sotloff's appeal is almost certainly the first time a non-Muslim has acknowledged his authority.
As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.
She says that she has learned that Islam teaches that "no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others." Her appeal humanizes her son and creates pressure on Baghdadi, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an expert in terror groups.