Friends, Officials Holding Out Hope for ISIS Captive Sotloff

Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 02:44 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The capture of and threats to execute freelance journalist Steven Sotloff are a "tragic situation," especially given that "the Islamic State [ISIS] has no respect for human life, said Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen Wednesday.

Sotloff was captured just across the northern border of Syria in 2013, after entering from Turkey, reports The Washington Post. 

He depicted, through social media, several near-death experiences he encountered during his travels, but his name did not become known worldwide until this week, when he appeared in the video with executed journalist James Foley.

"I met with the Sotloff family in Miami and have spoken to them over the phone while in D.C. regarding their son Steven's situation," Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, told the Post. "My office has contacted the relevant agencies, departments, and even organizations with connections on the ground in Syria to try to get answers for the Sotloff family."

But time may be running out for Sotloff, whose friends describe him as an avid professional and Miami Heat fan who wanted to help the world.

"He went out there to find himself in his profession," former University of Central Florida dorm mate Josh Polsky told NBC affiliate WTVJ in Miami. "He was doing what he believed in and [is] really looking to help the world and report back as a freelance journalist."

Sotloff's family has been keeping quiet since their son's capture, even after release of the Foley beheading video. They have believed staying mum on the situation would help keep him safe, but they have been working with Washington officials for the past year in hopes of getting him released.

Like Sotloff, Foley, 40, was a freelancer covering Syria's civil war when he was captured. On the video, which U.S. officials say they believe is authentic, the man who killed Foley identifies Sotloff and said his life depends on President Barack Obama's next decision concerning further airstrikes on ISIS..

The video also criticized the airstrikes Obama ordered on Aug. 7 to protect U.S. interests while providing humanitarian aid for religious minorities targeted by the jihadist militants.

Sotloff had documented his travels in the Middle East on Twitter, where he said he is a "stand-up philosopher from Miami" and a fan of the Heat. His articles had appeared in Time and Foreign Policy magazines, with stories from Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria.

But his travels were dangerous. In September 2012, Sotloff tweeted a video that he said showed him being targeted by Syrian fighter jets in Aleppo.

Story continues below video.



For Time, Sotloff wrote an article reconstructing the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, based on interviews with Libyan guards and militia.

His more recent stories, posted from Syria before his capture sometime after his last tweet, concerned the Assad regime's targeting of civilians in Aleppo and the resulting refugee crisis at Syria's border with Turkey.

But his last tweet wasn't about Syria at all; it was about his beloved Miami Heat:

Meanwhile, back home, a petition has been filed on the White House's "We the People" website calling on the government to do all it can to free Sotloff.

Meanwhile, Sotloff's friends from UFC, where he majored in journalism from 2002 to 2004 but did not earn a degree, said that even while their former classmate was overseas, he was still working to bring his friends together.

Story continues below video.


"We all have talked on the social media network and the phone,” Polsky told NBC.

"Everyone is in a different field and different professions at this point, but we've all kind of come together for the first time in quite a while because of personal tragedy and our connection to Steve.”

His friend Anat Benarie said that the group of friends has not quit hoping for their friend to be returned home safely, but "it is scary to think about what the potential outcome could be."

But the friends admire Sotloff for his work as a war correspondent, and are hoping for the best.

"He went out there to find himself in his profession," Polsky said. "He was doing what he believed in and really looking to help the world and report back as a freelance journalist."

"Everybody wants to have hope," said Benarie. "That's the only thing you can really hold onto, right?"

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