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Emotional Plea From Mother of Steven Sotloff, American ISIS Captive

In a video message, Shirley Sotloff directly addressed the leader of ISIS by his preferred title — "the caliph of the Islamic State."
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The mother of an American journalist held by the militants of ISIS pleaded with his captors on Wednesday to spare his life and “please release my child.”

In a video message, Shirley Sotloff directly addressed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by his preferred title — “the caliph of the Islamic State” — and asked him to show mercy on her son, Steven.

“He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak,” she said, speaking deliberately and looking straight into the camera. “We have not seen Steven for over a year, and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.”

“As a mother, I ask you to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over,” she said in the video, which was broadcast over the Middle East news channel Al Arabiya.

ISIS militants threatened Steven Sotloff’s life last week in the same video in which an ISIS fighter beheaded James Foley, another American journalist. ISIS demanded an end to American airstrikes, which have pounded ISIS targets since Aug. 8.

Steven Sotloff, 31, who has written about the Middle East for Time magazine and other news outlets, disappeared in August 2013. He grew up in Miami.

Patrick M. Skinner, director of special projects for the Soufan Group, a security consulting company, described the video as remarkable and carefully worded.

The mother, he pointed out, said that her son had traveled to the Middle East to report on “the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants.”

“The way that translates in Arabic is really powerful,” he said. “Tyrant is a really, really big image in Islamic history. They’re always fighting against tyrants. The Syrian civil war was to rise up against a tyrant.”

Skinner, who has studied militant Islam for 15 years, said that he had not seen a video like it — a videotape appealing directly to the leader of a terrorist group to free a captive.

He said that Shirley Sotloff was smart to appeal to Baghdadi’s sense of power. Little is known about the ISIS leader, but he has designs on establishing a caliphate, or global Islamic state.

“I’m not a mother, obviously, but I would do the exact same thing,” he said. “From an emotional and a rational side, it’s a brilliant move.”

Shirley Sotloff said in the video that she had learned about Islam since her son’s capture, including that “no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others.”

“I’ve always learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty,” she said. “I ask you to please release my child.”

Skinner said that there was little risk of further harm to Steven Sotloff posed by the video, considering that ISIS has already publicly threatened him.

“You’re not going to make them mad,” he said. “They’re already psychopathic. He’s in as bad a place as a person can be. There is no making it worse.”


— Erin McClam