WASHINGTON – Terrorists from Islamic State claim to have beheaded a second American journalist in two weeks, videotaping the crime and blaming the US civilian’s death personally on US President Barack Obama, who continued to authorize air strikes against the group in northern Iraq despite its warnings.
Steven Sotloff, 31, was allegedly murdered by the same masked man shown killing James Foley in a video released to the world on August 19 and authenticated days later by the US government.
Sotloff grew up in Miami, the son of Arthur and Shirley Sotloff, and previously worked for Temple Beth Am Day School in Pinecrest, Florida, according to the synagogue website. Sotloff worked in the past for both The Media Line and The Jerusalem Report, filing his last dispatch for the Report from Syria about a year ago, shortly before he was taken hostage. He lived in Israel for a short period and played rugby with a club in Ra’anana.
In the video, the masked man said: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State.”
Imagery in the video capturing Sotloff’s fate is similar to that featured in the Foley video: the journalist dressed in orange prison wear, on his knees in a desert somewhere along the faded border of Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration has yet to confirm the authenticity of the video.
“The intelligence community will work to confirm it,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday. “If it is true, we are sickened and our hearts go out to the family at this time.”
Declining to call the beheading an act of war, Psaki characterized the purported killing as a “horrific terrorist act” against the United States.
“The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity,” said Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist.”
Foley’s murder shook Washington in August, prompting a national dialogue over the extent Islamic State might be threatening the US homeland. Responding to Foley’s killing, Obama said the group was a “cancer” that must be rooted from the world through an international effort.
The Obama administration first ordered strikes against the group about two months ago, citing the president’s obligation to protect US assets and personnel on the ground in Baghdad and Arbil, an oil-boom city in the country’s north, home to thousands of American workers. The US military has conducted more than 100 strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq since the campaign began.
Sotloff’s mother made an emotional appeal for her son’s life on camera last week, pleading to his captors and claiming that Islam requires they protect the lives of innocent actors.
In the video, Sotloff said he was “paying the price” of American policy in the region. Islamic State holds at least two other American civilians captive, and is comprised of thousands of foreign fighters from the US and Western Europe.
The Islamic State fighter threatened that – should the US and UK continue its operations against their group – David Cawthorne Haines, a British citizen, would be the next to die.
Obama seeks an international coalition to fight the group, and will dispatch US Secretary of State John Kerry next week to rally Sunni powers to the cause. Islamic State purports to represent Sunni Islam, but religious and government leaders in Saudi Arabia have said the group is the number one enemy of Islam.
Aggie Grossman, Ilan Evyatar and JTA contributed to this report.