The Islamic State militant group released a video purportedly showing the beheading of American-Jewish journalist Steven Sotloff, the SITE monitoring service reported on Tuesday.
A masked figure in the video also issued a threat against a third captive, a Briton, a man the group named as David Haines, and warned governments to back off "this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State", the monitoring service said.
The purported executioner appeared to be the same British-accented man who appeared in an Aug. 19 video showing the killing of American journalist James Foley, and it showed a similar desert setting. In both videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits.
"I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and ... on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings," the man said.
"So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people."
In the video, Sotloff describes himself a "paying the price" for the U.S. intervention in Iraq with his life.
Sotloff, a freelance journalist, was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013. Sotloff's mother Shirley appealed on Aug. 27 in a videotaped message to Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for her son's release. Addressing the leader of the Islamic State group by name, Shirley Sotloff said in a video her son was "an innocent journalist" who shouldn't pay for U.S. government actions in the Middle East over which he has no control.
About two weeks ago, the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, released a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago, and images of Sotloff in an orange jumpsuit whose life they said depended on U.S. action in Iraq.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he wasn't immediately aware of the purported Sotloff video and wasn't in a position to confirm its authenticity.
"This is something that the administration has obviously been watching very carefully," Earnest said. "Our thoughts and prayers first and foremost are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff's family and those who worked with him."
Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the Sotloff family, said that the family had seen the video but that authorities have not established its authenticity.
"The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately. There will be no public comment from the family during this difficult time," Barfi said.
A source familiar with the matter said that while U.S. officials have yet to formally confirm the validity of the video, it appeared to be authentic.
'It wasn't safe to be over there — he knew it'
Sotloff was originally from Miami, where his family still lives. After his abduction in Syria about a year ago, his family had sought a news blackout, as has been done in the case of many other abducted journalists. The theory is that by putting the journalist in the international spotlight, the kidnappers will assume they’ve netted someone high-profile and can extort ever-higher sums for their captive’s release. But after Sotloff appeared at the end of the video of the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, friends and family have grown more vocal in support of his release. His mother, Shirley Sotloff, last week released a video appeal for his life, directly addressing the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson," she said. "He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak."
Sotloff left Miami to attend a boarding high school, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, where he coedited the student newspaper, graduating in 2002, according to a New York Times report. He attended University of Central Florida from 2002 to 2004, during which he wrote for the school paper, the Central Florida Future, the university said. Tall and broadly-built, he played rugby in college and continued to occasionally play the sport into his 20s, says one editor who worked with him. Other than playing rugby, he was an avid fan of his local teams – the Miami Heat and the Miami Dolphins – tweeting about them often.
As Sotloff grew passionate about reporting in the Middle East, a former roommate told the school’s newspaper after the Foley kidnapping, some friends grew concerned.
"He said it was scary over there; it was dangerous. It wasn't safe to be over there — he knew it," his former UCF roommate Emerson Lotzia Jr. told the Central Florida Future. "He kept going back."
Sotloff at some point based himself in Yemen, having learned Arabic there, and traveled around the region with a Yemeni mobile number. His career took off during the Arab Spring, during which he published work in TIME, National Interest, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor, and the Long War Journal, to name a partial list from his Twitter account. He also freelanced for the Jerusalem Report and the Jerusalem Post.
Janine Di Giovanni, the Middle East editor of Newsweek, told CNN on Tuesday that Sotloff, whom she considered a friend as well as colleague, “very clever, he was very philosophical, he was aware of the risks.” He was, she added, concerned that he had angered Syrian rebels and that they’d put him on some kind of black list last year.
“One thing he had told me that was again rather chilling is that he was concerned that he had been on some kind of a list, and this had been around the time that ISIS had been showing up and taking over checkpoints that had been manned before by the rebels. And he thought he had angered some of the rebels, he didn’t know which ones, by taking footage of a hospital in Aleppo that had been bombed, and he had been very concerned about this. But he still went back.” Di Giovanni said Sotloff had wanted not just to do daily news, but to work on projects that were very long-term and profound and deep-reaching. “He wanted to get his teeth into the story,” she said.
Outgoing Iraq FM: IS is world's common enemy
Iraq's outgoing foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari, condemned what he called "this savage killing...an example of savagery and evil." and said this was evidence of the need for Iraq and the West to defeat the Islamic State.
"We have a common enemy and the whole world is moving in the right direction to stop this savagery and brutality," Zebari said. "The whole world is standing united against IS. They must be defeated so these horrid scenes will not be repeated."
Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim politician Sami Askari, who is close to outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said: "They are trying to scare the Americans not to intervene. I don't think Washington will be scared and stop ...
"This is evil. Every human being has to fight this phenomenon. Like cancer, there is no cure. You have to fight it."
A person with ties to the Islamic State in Diyala province said the group had suffered badly in northern Iraq since U.S. air strikes began last month, ahead of the filmed execution of Foley and grisly video of the beheading of a Kurdish soldier.
"The defeat of the Islamic State in the battle of Mosul Dam contributed to a deflating of the morale of its fighters and the American strikes have also succeeded in restricting their field operations," the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
"The initiative is not with Islamic State anymore, it's with their enemy now."
The United States is taking the Islamic State insurgents far more seriously now than it did six months ago, when Obama told the New Yorker magazine that they were the "JV team," which is short for "junior varsity" and means they are not the best players on the field.
On Aug. 24, al Qaida-linked Nusra Front militants in Syria freed an American writer, Peter Theo Curtis, who had been missing since 2012, following what officials said were efforts by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to secure his release.
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