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2014-09-03

Steven Sotloff Beheaded by ISIS, Becoming 70th Journalist Killed Covering Syria Conflict

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The militant group Islamic State has released a video which appears to show the second beheading of a U.S. journalist in as many weeks. Steven Sotloff is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by foreign prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. He kneels in the same position as ISIS’s previous victim, James Foley. As a masked person stands over him with a knife, Sotloff speaks directly to the camera and recites what appears to be a coerced statement about "paying the price" for U.S. airstrikes against the group. Sotloff was kidnapped about a year ago in Syria while working as a freelance journalist. To discuss the beheadings and the danger journalists face while reporting in Syria, we are joined by Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria released a video on Tuesday which appears to show the second beheading of a U.S. journalist in two weeks. In the video, Steven Sotloff is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit, like the prisoners at Guantánamo. He is kneeling in the same position as ISIS’s previous victim, journalist James Foley. As a masked person stands over him with a knife, Sotloff speaks directly to the camera, says he is, quote, "paying the price" for U.S. airstrikes against the group. Sotloff was kidnapped about a year ago in Syria while working as a freelance journalist. President Obama addressed the killing of Steven Sotloff earlier today during his trip to Estonia.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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 and dignity. Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. They’ve failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now is Robert Mahoney. He’s deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. We’re also joined by Mohammed al Dulaimy, an Iraqi journalist who reports for McClatchy Newspapers, reported from Iraq for years, is now seeking asylum in the United States out of fear for his safety if he returned. He has just recently come on television to talk about the situation in Iraq. I wanted to go first to Robert Mahoney. Can you talk about Steven Sotloff?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Yes. First of all, you know, we are horrified by the fact that this is the second journalist in just over two weeks to be butchered in this way in front of a camera. Steven is one of those journalists who had a passion for the Middle East. He learned Arabic. He lived in Yemen. And he went there in full knowledge of the great risks that he was taking in order to bear witness for us and bring us reports. And he’s been brutally murdered. He is one of about 71 journalists that we have documented at the Committee to Protect Journalists who have died as a result of reporting on the Syrian conflict over the last three years. That’s a very heavy toll. And he’s one of those 80 who have been taken hostage, journalists. There are around 20, we believe, left, and the majority of those are Syrians.

AMY GOODMAN: Twenty. Where are they being held?

ROBERT MAHONEY: We don’t know precisely, but they were taken in Syria. The problem is that when journalists cross from Turkey into Syria, they can be captured, and then they could be passed on by the many groups that have been taking journalists in Syria over the last three years. So, they could be anywhere. And the video looks like any part of northeast Syria or parts of Iraq. There’s no way for us to tell where that is. Though it may be for experts [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you tell us, at the end of the video, there is another journalist, just like we saw Steven Sotloff in the video for James Foley when he was executed and they said Sotloff would be next. Talk about the next journalist. He’s British, is that right?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Yeah. My understanding is that he’s a humanitarian worker and not a journalist. And he’s British. The British government has asked the British press not to name him, and they haven’t. He has been named in the American press. But he is not, to my knowledge, a journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does this mean now?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Well, first of all, it shows that the journalists and other hostages are being used as political pawns. I don’t know whether the Islamic State jihadists had any intention of ever ransoming or releasing the people that they’ve taken, because they are killing them. Journalists have been taken hostage for many years in the Middle East, going back to Lebanon, but they were kept alive. The idea was that they would be used for some criminal or political purpose. But the Islamic State have taken this to a new level of barbarity, as far as we’re concerned, because the demands we heard that were made in terms of money for James Foley were so outrageous, over $130 million, that they were never even taken seriously. So I don’t think that there’s any real chance of negotiating with these captors.

AMY GOODMAN: The Committee to Protect Journalists recently talked about the 20 people who were held hostage. You made a decision to make that public. Can you talk about how you found out who they were?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Through research with Syrian groups on the ground, Syrian journalists, talking to families, employers. When there is a request by a news organization not to talk about its employees that have been taken, we follow that. We respect the families’ wishes or the employers’ wishes. But most of these journalists that have been taken are Syrians, and there’s very few people to stand up and advocate for them. So we’ve made a point of documenting their cases and putting their names out there, too.

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