ISIS publishes a letter apparently written by Sotloff to his mother in Dabiq magazine. Sotloff:
To Mom, I do not have much time and will probably not get this opportunity again, so I would like to get straight to the point. Your recent public video of pleading to the Caliphate not to kill me has been received loud and clear by them. However, this in itself is not enough to save me.
The British militant believed to be responsible for the beheadings of Foley and Sotloff is reported to have been known to MI5 before he left the country. He was considered a low-risk target as he worked as a street collector raising funds for legitimate Arab charities. Doubt remains as to whether the British voice on the execution videos – belonging to the ISIS militant called ‘John’ by former captives, as part of a group of four British militants nicknamed ‘The Beatles’ – is that of the person who carried out the killings. It is also suspected that some parts of the videos, including Sotloff’s apparent message to America before he is killed, were faked, however ‘John’ is one of the most wanted among hundreds of UK fighters believed to be operating in Syria and Iraq. A source:
MI5 has identified this man and they have known exactly who he is for some time. He was even being looked at before he travelled abroad. At the time he was considered a very low-level risk because he was merely believed to be making street collections. Like so many jihadists before him, he then seems to have become radicalised almost overnight and disappeared to travel to the Middle East.
The man is thought to have traveled to the Middle East around a year ago, and became battlehardened within months.
U.S. and UK authorities have identified the ISIS militant believed to have carried out the executions of Sotloff and Foley, and are expected to announce the identity of the man referred to as ‘John’ within days. Investigators have also identified two of the other men that make up the group of four Syria-based British ISIS militants referred to by former captives as ‘The Beatles,’ and an FBI team working with Scotland Yard is closing in on 12 people suspected of forming John’s support network, including assisting him to travel to Syria. A source:
It has been a coordinated effort to track down the support network around the British Islamic State executioner. Our inquiries have given us leads across the country. We are 99.9% certain now as to who ‘John’ is but investigators have had to tread softly in charting and approaching his wider network in the UK.
The source says an announcement is imminent:
This approach has been successful in helping to collate evidence and possibly pinpoint the target’s location in Syria. Familiar names of what can only be described as hardened extremists with a jihadi background have cropped up in this investigation. I expect an official announcement disclosing the executioner’s identity will be made in the coming days and it is only a matter of time before we bring him in.
Steven Sotloff’s family says ISIS has violated many tenets of Islam by killing him. Family spokesman Barak Barfi accuses the group of the Arabic concept of a ‘great sin’:
I have a message for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Where is your mercy? Wayluk.
He cites several Quran passages and says ISIS has violated them:
I am here debating you with kindness. I don’t have a sword in my hand, and I am ready for your answer.
Jewish leaders and people who knew Sotloff say that he hid his Jewish identity from ISIS. This includes concealing dual U.S.-Israeli nationality and that he worked for Israeli media outlets.
A person who was held captive by ISIS at the same time says he managed to fast on Yom Kippur and pray secretly towards Jerusalem. Avi Hoffman, editor of the Jerusalem Report where Sotloff had filed stories, says they refused to aknowledge a relationship with him, for Sotloff’s protection.
A video appears to show the killing by ISIS of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. The man identified as Sotloff addresses the camera:
I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing. Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?
A militant warns the U.S.:
Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.
The militant then appears to kill Sotloff by beheading him.
Sotloff was last seen alive at the end of a similar video which showed the execution by beheading of American journalist James Foley. He told Obama that his life was in the President’s hands. The most recent video ends with an apparent threat against the life of a man identified as David Cawthorne Haines, a British citizen.
Sotloff’s parents decide to keep his Jewish roots and Israeli citizenship a secret from the media and the world at large, after his disappearance in Syria in August 2013. They fear that if his true identity is discovered, he would be at a greater risk of being tortured and killed, and orchestrate a yearlong campaign to delete all references connecting him to Judaism and Israel from the internet. A total of 150 individuals speaking 20 different languages work to remove every article, page, post, and tweet that could potentially endanger Sotloff. (His Jewishness and Israeli citizenship are only made public are his murder.) A friend tells interviewers:
We had information ISIS was not aware of Steven’s Jewish background, and certainly unaware of his Israeli citizenship – this is what we were told by other journalists who were with him and were released. He was killed because of his connections to the West and his American citizenship, not because of his ties to Israel.
Oren Kessler, an American-Israeli journalist based in London, reveals information gleaned from email contact maintained with Sotloff beginning in 2011. Kessler claims that Sotloff presented himself as a Muslim Chechen journalist raised secular, and eventually underwent a 10 minute conversion to Islam in Yemen.
There weren’t many people in Libya who were willing to talk to a reporter from the Jerusalem Post. He was one of the only people on the ground who would talk to me. And then he was in Egypt and then in Syria… We would exchange contacts, say, ‘Hey, do you know anybody here?’ as journalists do.
Biden says the U.S. is grieving the deaths of Foley and Sotloff and will bring ISIS to justice:
They should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.
He says America will not be intimidated by brutal acts like the beheading by ISIS of the two journalists:
We came back after 9/11. We dusted ourselves off and we made sure that Osama bin Laden would never, ever again threaten the American people. We came back after Boston strong, blaming no one but resolving to be certain that this didn’t happen again. As a nation, we’re united, and when people harm Americans, we don’t retreat. We don’t forget.
Shirley Sotloff issues a video plea to Al-Baghdadi on the New York Times website to release her journalist son, Steven, held by ISIS since 2013:
You, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you please to release my child. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life.
She says Steven is an ‘innocent’ journalist who has no control over the U.S. government’s policies:
As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.
She says he has been studying Islam since his capture:
I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book [Jews and Christans].
Sotloff is the first child born to parents Arthur and Shirley Sotloff of Pinecrest, Florida, and older brother to a sister Lauren, born on May 27, 1986. Sotloff attends primary school at Temple Beit Am in Miami, and in high school attends Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., where he plays on the rugby team, writes for the school newspaper, and performs free-style raps at talent shows.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issues a statement expressing its concern for around 20 journalists believed to be held by ISIS:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is extremely concerned for all journalists, most of them Syrians, still held captive by the Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State, which has repeatedly kidnapped, killed, and threatened journalists in the territories over which it holds sway.
CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney:
Local and foreign journalists already knew that Syria was the world’s most dangerous place to be a reporter before the beheading of James Foley brought that knowledge to the general public. The members of the Islamic State who murdered him use violence and intimidation to silence all independent reporting in the areas they control. Despite that, Syrian and foreign reporters like Jim Foley are prepared to put their lives at risk, in an attempt, in the words of another U.S. journalist killed in Syria, Marie Colvin, to ‘bear witness.’
Kissinger says Iran poses a bigger threat than ISIS:
There has come into being a kind of a Shia belt from Tehran through Baghdad to Beirut. And this gives Iran the opportunity to reconstruct the ancient Persian Empire — this time under the Shia label — in the rebuilding of the Middle East that will inevitably have to take place when the new international borders [are] drawn. Because the borders of the settlement of 1919-’20 are essentially collapsing. That gives Iran a very powerful level from a strategic point of view. I consider Iran a bigger problem than ISIS.
Iran has a greater opportunity to build an Islamist empire:
ISIS is a group of adventurers with a very aggressive ideology. But they have to conquer more and more territory before they can became a strategic, permanent reality. I think a conflict with ISIS — important as it is — is more manageable than a confrontation with Iran.
He says the U.S. should conduct strikes on ISIS in retaliation for the murders of Sotloff and Foley:
They have cut the throat of an American on television. This is an insult to the United States, which requires that we demonstrate that this is not an act that is free. I would strongly favor a strong attack on ISIS for a period that is related to the murder of the American.
In the long term, cooperation is key to addressing the threat the group poses:
Then, we have to go into the long-range problem. I think when we are dealing with a unit like ISIS, we should not get into a position where they can lead us by establishing ground forces. But we should set strategic objectives where we thwart any goal they set themselves, which we should be able to do by superior air power. And then, if we can enlist other countries, or other more local groups to do the ground fighting, we might actually destroy them.