Islamic State released a video that shows the beheading of second American journalist Steven Sotloff. Calling Sotloff’s execution retribution for the Obama administration’s continuing airstrikes in Iraq, the killer in the video threatens to take the life of a third hostage, a Briton, next if the attacks do not stop immediately. Sotloff’s death comes a fortnight after American journalist James Foley was executed in a similar video, evidently by the same person. The video titled “A Second Message to America” shows Sotloff, in an orange jumpsuit, delivering a short message before he is beheaded in a gruesome manner by an IS fighter, who has been dubbed as Jihadi John.
31-year-old Sotloff, a resident of Miami, freelanced for Time and other foreign policy magazines. He disappeared from near the Syria-Turkey border in August 2013 and was not seen again until he appeared in Foley’s execution video, which was released by IS last month.
In the latest video, Sotloff is seen reading out a statement saying, “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?”
Clad in the same black outfit that he wore for Foley’s execution, Jihadi John, suspected of being Briton Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, is seen pointing his knife menacingly towards the camera as he takes over from Sotloff to conclude the video. The IS black flag can be seen waving in the background.
“As your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike necks of your people. I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic state, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and ... on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike out people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Following Foley’s death and IS’ threat to kill Sotloff next, Sotloff’s mother Shirley made an appearance on a television program last week to appeal directly to IS caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to spare her son’s life. Shirley said her son is an innocent journalist who should not have to pay for the American government’s actions in the Middle East, which he can in no way influence.
“My son is in your hands. As a mother I ask Your Justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life,” she said.
While President Barack Obama was tied up with an international delegation, American lawmakers were quick to denounce Sotloff’s execution as another atrocity against the United States. After IS proved it would act upon its death threat, British Prime Minister David Cameron is likely to feel pressured, especially since Jihadi John has threatened to execute a Briton next. Cameron condemned the killing, referring to the act as absolutely disgusting and despicable.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sotloff’s family and friends tonight as they deal with this appalling and tragic situation. We have already been working hard to keep British people safe and we will continue to do all we can to protect our country and our people from these barbaric terrorists,” he said.
On September 3, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke out, saying the world has been outraged with IS’ conduct.
“We are all outraged at reports from Iraq about the brutal killing of civilians by ISIL, including yesterday's reported brutal beheading of another journalist,” he said.
Barak Barfi, a spokesperson for the Sotloff family, broke down as he addressed the media, describing Sotloff as someone who was torn between two poles – someone who craved a peaceful life but also felt drawn towards the Arab world.
“Sotloff was no war junkie but someone who merely wanted to give a voice to those who have none. From the Libyan doctor in Misrata who struggled to provide psychological services to children ravaged by war, to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world,” said Barfi.
After addressing the media in English, Barfi started to speak in Arabic, daring IS caliph Baghdadi to have a one-on-one debate with him on the tenets of Islam.
“I have a message to Abu Bakr. ... You said Ramadan is a month of mercy but where is your mercy? You speak of Islam and the Holy Koran but I know the Koranic verses. Abu Bakr, I am ready to debate you. I come in peace, I don’t have a sword in my hand, I am ready for your answers,” he said in Arabic.
Hundreds of students from the University of Central Florida, where Sotloff had pursued his journalism degree, held a candlelight vigil to honour his death. As the Sotloffs mourned Steven’s death, they remembered Foley too.
Foley’s mother Diane said she was heartbroken for the Sotloffs because she had hoped that IS would spare the lives of all the hostages after they executed her son to convey a message to the world. She urged world leaders to find peaceful solutions to such global conflicts and prayed that all the outrage in the world is funneled into goodness and harmony.
After Sotloff’s execution, an Israeli official confirmed that the American journalist was also an Israeli citizen, a fact that had been hushed up in hope of Sotloff’s safe return.
Photo Credit: Daily Mail