The mother of the American journalist threatened at the end of last week’s video showing the beheading of James Foley directly appealed to the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State to release her son.
Miami native Steven Sotloff, 31, had written for TIME magazine, Foreign Policy, the Christian Science Monitor, The Diplomat and more when he disappeared Aug. 4, 2013, near the Turkish border.
After photojournalist Foley was beheaded on camera in a video released by ISIS on Aug. 19, his executioner reappeared on camera holding Sotloff by the back of his orange shirt.
“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” warned the terrorist.
The very fact that Sotloff had been kidnapped surprised media. His family had kept the story dark, hoping a media blackout might give them better negotiations with his captors.
Today his mother, Shirley, pleaded for his life in a video carried by Al-Arabiya.
“My son Steven is in your hands,” she said directly to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother, and grandson. He’s an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak. We have not seen Steven for over a year and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.”
She said that since her son was captured, she learned enough about Islam to know “that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others.”
“Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He’s an innocent journalist. I’ve always learned that you, the Caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child,” Shirley Sotloff said.
“As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over,” she added. “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. I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children’s children. I plead with you to grant me this.”
ISIS supporters, meanwhile, were using the hashtag #StevensHeadInObamasHands to try to heap pressure on the White House to meet its demands to stop airstrikes on the Islamic State.
“As you kill us in Iraq, bomb us in Yemen and torture us in Afghanistan, we will kill you wherever we find you,” read one tweet.
At today’s White House press briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest said he didn’t know if President Obama had seen the mother’s video appeal.
“I have seen the video, and I’ve seen the news reports about the video. And obviously the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House and in the Obama administration are with the Sotloff family as they endure this very tragic situation,” Earnest said.
“As you know, this administration is deeply engaged and doing everything we can to seek the return of every American who is currently being held in that region. But I don’t have an update in terms of the president’s — whether or not the president has seen the specific video in question.”
He said he didn’t know if the making or release of the video had been coordinated at all with the administration. “I know that the members of this administration have been in touch with the Sotloff family on a regular basis, but I don’t have anything to share in terms of guidance that was offered to them about the wisdom of doing a video like this.”
Earnest also wouldn’t assess whether the video was a wise move. “She obviously, as is evident from the video, feels desperate about the — about the safety and well-being of her son, and understandably so,” he said.
“…And the United States is committed to his — to doing everything that we can to try to recover him and rescue him safely and as soon as possible. We certainly would call on those who are holding to release him. But it is the policy of the United States, and has been for quite some time, that this government does not pay ransom for American hostages and not only do we not — well, and we don’t ask others to pay ransom to secure the release of American hostages for the reasons that I laid out, that it only serves to allow those terrorist organizations to finance their operations and only puts greater risk on the lives of other American civilians.”
When shown a clip of the video by MSNBC, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the entire government and not just the military would “never lose focus on those Americans who are being held hostage and captive in these kinds of environments by terrorists.”
“That’s why we executed that rescue attempt, because we just don’t lose focus,” Kirby said of the failed rescue attempt the Pentagon says was conducted by special forces earlier this summer. “And while we can’t talk about the kinds of ways we’re trying to stay focused on it, I can assure you, I can assure her, I can assure the American people that we’ve not lost focus on him or the other hostages.”
A White House petition asking Obama to “take immediate action to save Steven’s life by any means necessary” has reached just over 11,000 signatures. It needs 100,000 by Sept. 18 to trigger a White House response.
In the video, ISIS didn’t name a deadline to spare Sotloff’s life.