Steven Sotloff's Family Hid His Jewish Identity in Attempt to Save Kidnapped Journalist

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

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.

See also: ISIS Beheads Journalist, Threatens to Kill Miami Reporter if Obama Continues Attacks

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.

In the Jewish Journal, Danielle Berrin remembers Steven as "the goofy, smiley, playfully mischievous kid from Miami I hadn't seen in more than 15 years."

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."

Send your tips to the author, or follow him on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.