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Saturday 20 September 2014

Beheaded journalist faked illness to hide faith from ISIS

Published 04/09/2014 | 09:21

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Steve Sotloff, before the purported beheading, in the latest video released by IS

An Israeli official has confirmed that slain American journalist Steven Sotloff was also an Israeli citizen.

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Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson wrote on his personal Twitter feed: "Cleared for publication: Steven Satloff was Israel citizen RIP," misspelling the journalist's last name.

US President Barack Obama said he was 'heartbroken' that another shooting had occurred at the Fort Hood Army base and described the situation there as fluid. Photo: Reuters
Obama vows to destroy 'barbaric' rebels of Islamic State Photo: Reuters

There was no further comment from the ministry. Israel's military censor office cleared the information for publication, suggesting Israel had tried to conceal the news to protect Sotloff (31).

Sotloff's Israeli citizenship did not appear to have influenced his fate.

Sotloff, a Miami-area native who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, vanished a year ago in Syria and was not seen again until he appeared in the video that showed Foley's beheading.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened in that video with death unless the US stopped airstrikes on the Islamic State.

In the video distributed on Tuesday and titled, A Second Message to America, Sotloff appears in a similar jumpsuit before he is apparently beheaded by a fighter with the Islamic State, the extremist group that has conquered wide swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq and declared itself a caliphate.

At the end of the video, a third captive from Britain, David Cawthorne Haines was threatened with a similar fate. It was not immediately clear who Haines was. Officials with the British Foreign Office have declined to comment.

In Israel, friends and colleagues remembered Sotloff as an adventurous man who was fascinated with the Middle East. His death and connection to Israel made top news in the country.

His Jewish faith had been kept secret during captivity but the details can now be made public. His mother Shirley, who explained how she had studied the tenets of Islam when she made her emotional video plea for his life, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and teaches at a Jewish school in Miami.

Her son took Israeli citizenship when he studied in the country.

New York magazine has also added further detail about his subterfuge to observe holy days.

"Former captives said that he continued observing Jewish holy days and praying while in ISIS custody. One told a Hebrew-language paper that he fasted on Yom Kippur by pretending to be ill, and prayed toward Jerusalem by observing the direction in which his Muslim captors prayed."

The release of the grisly video showing his death sparked a steely reaction from US President Barack Obama (inset) who has promised to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic militant group. Obama vowed the US would not forget the "terrible crime against these two fine young men".

"We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists," Obama said.

"And 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."

Obama also sought to clean up the damage from his statement last week that "we don't have a strategy yet" for dealing with the Islamic State group in Syria. Republicans quickly seized on the remark to argue the president lacks a coherent approach to fighting the extremist group.

"It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that's going to work, that we're very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are," Obama said.

"We've made the case to Congress and we've made the case to the American people, and we've got allies behind us so that it's not just a one-off, but it's something that over time is going to be effective."

Vice-President Joe Biden said America will follow the terrorists who posted videos showing the beheading of two journalists "to the gates of hell".

Biden said the Islamic State militant group responsible for beheading James Foley and Steven Sotloff won't intimidate the United States.

"The American people are so much stronger, so much more resolved than any enemy can fully understand," Biden said. "As a nation, we're united. And when people harm Americans, we don't retreat, we don't forget."

In the Sotloff video, a masked militant warns Obama that as long as US airstrikes against the militant group continue, "our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people".

Obama responded that the airstrikes have been effective in blunting the militant threat and he will continue to battle the "barbaric and ultimately empty vision" that the Islamic State represents.

"Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat - not just to Iraq, but also the region and to the United States," he said.

Evening Herald

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