TEL AVIV, Israel - Slain journalist Steven Sotloff made friends no matter where he went, according to a former rugby teammate. The 31-year-old Florida native with joint U.S.-Israeli citizenship “was that kind of guy that can walk into a room with strangers and make friends with people," lawyer Michael Sapir told NBC News on Thursday. "He would come out of the room with two or three really good friends."
Sapir, who is an American-born Israeli, said he befriended Sotloff in 2005 when the journalist was studying foreign relations in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. The news that Sotloff had fallen into the hands of ISIS militants was akin to finding out a family member has terminal cancer – the shock was the diagnosis, not when the death really happened, Sapir said.
“I saw the still picture of Steven and [was] like ‘Oh my God, that’s my rugby teammate, that’s my friend from Israel.’ You knew right away his fate was sealed. After what happened to Foley and Daniel Pearl, you pray for the best, but you know the worst is coming,” he said, referring to journalists James Foley, who was killed by ISIS militants last month, and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by al Qaeda in 2002.
Sotloff, a freelancer who worked throughout the region and was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013, did not tell people he was Jewish when he was reporting, according to Sapir. “When he went out to the field he hid the fact he was Jewish obviously because of the people he was talking to, but when you look at Steven it’s hard not to see the map of Israel on his face.”
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