Islamic State beheads again

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From Tuesday’s video, American journalist Steven Sotloff’s murderer forces Sotloff to kneel before his execution. Photo by Polaris/Newco
From Tuesday’s video, American journalist Steven Sotloff’s murderer forces Sotloff to kneel before his execution. Photo by Polaris/Newco

Islamic State released a video Tuesday afternoon claiming to show the beheading of Jewish-American journalist Steven Sotloff, who would be the second American journalist beheaded by the terrorist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in two weeks.

The video, titled “A Second Message to America,” was released on online outlets. The video follows the Aug. 19 release of another video showing the beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley.

As of press time, the U.S. State Department was working to authenticate the video. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 23rd congressional district where Sotloff’s parents live and advocated for efforts to free the journalist and other American hostages, said she was devastated by the news.

“Steven was a dedicated journalist who committed his professional life to keeping the rest of the world informed about conflict and human suffering in the Middle East,” she said in a statement. “Just last week, his mother Shirley released a video pleading to the group’s basic humanity to release Steven, an independent journalist seeking to cover a conflict that has killed or displaced thousands of innocent people.”

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The video is similar to the video showing Foley’s beheading, according to reports. At the end of that video, Sotloff, 31, was shown on his knees and a voice could be heard threatening President Barack Obama that Sotloff would be next.

Tuesday’s video showed a man with a British accent dressed in black and holding a large knife, with Sotloff on his knees in a desert. Before his execution, Sotloff blames Obama and his Middle East policy for his impending demise, and the man clothed in black blames Obama for not listening to the group’s demands.

The video shows the fighter cutting Sotloff’s throat, then cuts to a severed head and a bloody body, according to reports. The video ends with threats to David Cawthorne Haines, a British hostage. Sotloff reported from Syria, Egypt and Libya, and was published in Time, the World Affairs Journal and Foreign Policy. Sotloff grew up in Miami’s Pinecrest neighborhood, where his mother taught early childhood education at Temple Beth Am.

A synagogue employee who answered the phone declined to comment. Phone calls to the Sotloff family’s home in Pinecrest were not answered. From his sophomore year of high school through graduation in 2002, Sotloff attended Kimball Union Academy, a college preparatory school in Meriden, N.H.

In a statement released Tuesday, the school credited Sotloff with revitalizing the student newspaper and said he was honored with the Lawton Award for Journalism at graduation. At Kimball Union, he served on the student council, was an admission tour guide, a member of the Kimball Union Fire Brigade, played varsity football and rugby, and performed in the musical Cabaret, according to the statement.

He kept in touch with Kimball Union, and exchanged emails with head of school Mike Schafer in the spring of 2011 when he was on the ground in Libya covering the Arab Spring. He returned to campus in April 2012 to share his experience.

“Steven was dedicated to putting a human face on the sufferings and hardships in some of the world’s most challenging conflict zones,” the school’s statement said. “His work became a humanitarian mission that helped others gain a more accurate and realistic global perspective on issues in the Middle East.”

Plans to honor Sotloff will be announced at a later date, the statement said. He attended the University of Central Florida from 2002 and 2004, majoring in journalism, and left before earning a degree. “Our UCF family mourns Steven’s death, and we join millions of people around the world who are outrage at this despicable and unjustifiable act,” said UCF President John C. Hitt.

Reacting to the murder, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said that the murders of Sotloff and Foley and treatment of people in areas controlled by ISIS highlight the importance of the international community coming together “to ensure this terror group is defeated.

If left unchecked, the threat ISIS poses to people in the Middle East and worldwide will only grow.

“Today, our thoughts are with Mr. Sotloff’s family and loved ones. We pray that they will be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement underscoring the seriousness of the threat from Islamic State in light of Sotloff’s reported beheading. “Sadly, ISIS is bringing this barbarity across the region – beheading and crucifying those who don’t share their dark ideology.

The threat from this group seems to grow by the day,” he said. “Working with key allies, the United States needs to be acting urgently to arm the Kurds on the ground who are fighting them, and targeting ISIS from the air with drone strikes.”

Marc Shapiro is a staff reporter at the Baltimore Jewish Times, WJW’s sister publication.

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