U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff
A video purportedly showing U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff kneeling next to a masked Islamic State fighter holding a knife in a still image from video released by Islamic State, Sept. 2, 2014. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Steven Sotloff, the journalist recently murdered by Islamic State, studied the Middle East at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, which is – ironically enough – the academic home of one of the world's top terrorism-research institutes.

With that academic background, a natural curiosity about and a drive to understand the region, and a knowledge of and willingness to accept the risks, he delved deep into some of the world's most dangerous and complicated conflicts, reports say.

Sotloff, who was 31, grew up in Miami, the son of Arthur and Shirley Sotloff. Reports say that he worked at a day school at a local synagogue. He was a fan of football and basketball – the Miami Dolphins and Miami Heat – and he played rugby.

The New York Times reports that he attended a boarding high school in New Hampshire and, from 2002 to 2004, the University of Central Florida. He came to Israel in 2008 to pursue an undergraduate degree at the IDC.

Sotloff reported for a number of publications, including the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, the Jerusalem Post, the Jerusalem Report, the Media Line, Time and World Affairs Journal. He learned Arabic in Yemen, carried a Yemeni phone number, and reported from there as well as countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Syria and Turkey.

Sotloff also served as a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy-research group focused on foreign policy and national security, FrontPage magazine reported.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Sotloff filed his final dispatch from Syria to the Jerusalem Report, shortly before he was taken from Aleppo, Syria, in August 2013.

He wasn't heard from for a year – until last month, when the Islamic State group released a video of its beheading of the journalist James Foley. It ended the message with images of Sotloff also held captive by the group. IS warned that Sotloff would be the group's next victim, depending on how U.S. President Barack Obama responded.

Last week, his mother addressed the head of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and pleaded with him to spare her son's life, saying he was "an innocent journalist" who did not control what the American government did or might do.

Reports say that he didn't make a point of his Jewishness or Israeli citizenship while he worked. But when he was taken, references to his background were removed from social media to avoid informing his Islamist captors. A report from the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a former fellow captive of Sotloff as saying that he feigned sickness so he was able to fast on Yom Kippur.

He was also thinking broadly about the region he covered.

Friends said he was critical of how average Israelis fare in their home country.

A former editor at Time magazine who worked with Sotloff is quoted in the Washington Post as saying that Sotloff wrote informed and important pieces about Libya's descent into chaos after Muammar Gadhafi's regime collapsed.

The New York Times picked up a tweet from a writer, Anna Marlowe, who wrote that Sotloff "deeply loved [the] Islamic world." His mother, in her plea to IS, said Sotloff traveled to the Middle East to document the suffering of Muslims.

Ilene Prusher, a blogger for Haaretz who edited Sotloff at the Jerusalem Report, said he was particularly good at man-on-the-street reporting, finding out what average people are thinking.

The Times of Israel quoted Time magazine's managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, as saying that Sotloff “gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world".

In his tribute to Sotloff, Obama said:

"Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who murdered him so brutally.

“They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world. His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice," he said, according to Politico.com.

Obama made clear that the United States will not back down, saying that "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."