Steven Sotloff's Family Hid His Jewish Identity in Attempt to Save Kidnapped Journalist
An ISIS video showing Steven Sotloff, who was captured last year in Syria.
A day after a video depicting his beheading was posted online, more details are emerging about the life and death of Middle East correspondent and Miami native Steven Sotloff.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking is the revelation that his family hid Sotloff's Jewish identity in a desperate attempt to save him from ISIS, the Islamist terror group that had kidnapped him during a reporting trip to Syria.
This morning, President Barack Obama admitted the latest ISIS video is real.
"Overnight, our government confirmed that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence," Obama said during a news conference in Estonia. The president then went on to warn ISIS: "Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served."
Sotloff's execution was the second so-called terror tape released in the past two weeks. On August 19, ISIS released a video of the beheading of another journalist, James Foley. That video ended with the warning that if Obama didn't halt a bombing campaign against ISIS, the group would also kill Sotloff.
"I'm sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing," Sotloff said in yesterday's tape. "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?"
Almost as tragic as the tape itself are reports of the desperate lengths to which the Sotloff family went in an effort to save him. Steven's mother, Shirley, made a video citing the Koran and begging for her son's life.
According to one of Steven's childhood friends, the Sotloff family went as far as to scrub the internet of any trace of the family's Jewish faith in an attempt to forestall his fate.
She describes learning of her friend's kidnapping only after the release of the August 19 video and then setting about to learn more about what happened to Steven.
"The Steven Sotloff who appeared in the video showing the beheading of freelance journalist James Foley, and who was cursed as next to die, was the same Jewish kid I grew up with in Miami, where we both attended day school at Temple Beth Am," she writes. "I clicked back over to Facebook, because even though my correspondence with Sotloff had apparently been scrubbed, with no trace of him remaining on the social network, I remembered that one of our friends' mothers had posted photos of our 1st grade class, which had to still be there. I pulled it up and there he was: 8-year-old Steven Sotloff. He had been untagged from the photo. Already a ghost.
"After Steven disappeared, his family was connected with contacts in Washington, who were supposed to help the situation," Berrin continues. "The advice the family got was to keep his disappearance quiet, the better to negotiate a possible ransom, and to erase any trace of his Jewish identity from the Web. They were told that ISIS 'probably didn't know or wasn't sure that Sotloff was Jewish and knowing that he was Jewish would be like another Daniel Pearl situation, so let's not give them that information,' a friend from home said."
There are also some new details about Sotloff's disappearance last summer. In the Daily Beast, Ben Taub writes that Steven may have been betrayed by a fixer or driver.
However it happened, the kidnapping came after a long run of close calls for the correspondent.
"Over beers at Kilis' only bar, Sotloff told me he was sick of being beaten up, and shot at, and accused of being a spy," Taub writes. "Just the day before, Turkish police had hit and pepper-sprayed him for taking pictures at a protest in a nearby city. He told me he wanted to quit reporting for a little while, at least on conflict in the Middle East, and maybe apply to graduate school back home in Florida. But first he wanted one last Syria run. He said he was chasing a good story, but kept the specifics close to his chest."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.