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Sunday 21 September 2014

How murdered Sotloff hid the fact that he was a Jew

Gordon Rayner

Published 05/09/2014 | 02:30

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A video purportedly showing U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff kneeling next to a masked Islamic State fighter holding a knife in an unknown location in this still image from video released by Islamic State September 2, 2014
A video purportedly showing U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff kneeling next to a masked Islamic State fighter holding a knife in an unknown location in this still image from video released by Islamic State September 2, 2014
Steven Sotloff
Steven Sotloff

Steven Sotloff, the American journalist beheaded in a video released on Tuesday, had kept secret from his Islamist captors the fact that he was Jewish with dual US-Israeli citizenship, and had even managed to fast during religious holidays by faking illness.

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The 31-year-old's family and friends removed all references to his faith and nationality from the internet as soon as he was kidnapped last year, and Israeli media stuck to a self-imposed blackout on reporting his ties to the country.

Mr Sotloff, originally from Florida, moved to Israel in 2008 and had worked for The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, as well as American media organisations.

He was so devout in his religious beliefs that he risked his life to observe the principles of his faith.

A former hostage who spent time with him in captivity told the Israeli website Yedioth Ahronoth: "He used to pray secretly in the direction of Jerusalem. He would see in which direction [the Muslim kidnappers] were praying and then adjust the angle."

Mr Sotloff kept a careful count of the number of days he had been held so he could work out the date and observe Jewish religious festivals. During Yom Kippur "he told them he was sick and didn't want to eat", the former hostage said.

After attending the University of Central Florida, Mr Sotloff moved to Israel to finish his undergraduate degree at the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya near Tel Aviv. After graduation, he remained in Israel and was granted citizenship.

A network of 150 friends and acquaintances worked throughout his time in captivity to remove all online references to his faith whenever they arose, according to one report. Avi Hoffman, editor of The Jerusalem Report, said: "We refused to acknowledge any relationship with him in case it was dangerous for him." American media organisations also decided not to publish the fact that he was Jewish. After Mr Sotloff was murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, tweeted: "Cleared for publication: Steven Sotloff was Israel citizen RIP."

When he was reporting in Muslim countries, Mr Sotloff reportedly told anyone who asked about his background that his surname was Chechen in origin and he had been raised as a non-practising Muslim. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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