Despite dangers, U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff was determined to record Arab Spring's human toll

Sep 03 2014, 09:28 IST
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Islamic State accounted Steven's beheading as a retaliation for the US's airstikes against the group. (Reuters) Islamic State accounted Steven's beheading as a retaliation for the US's airstikes against the group. (Reuters)
SummarySotloff was adamant to cover the unheard stories in Syria even when he knew the dangers involved in it...

Even for a freelance journalist covering the tumult in the Arab world, Steven Sotloff's travels seemed nonstop.

In October 2012, the American reporter was in Benghazi, Libya, covering the aftermath of the deadly raid on the U.S. diplomatic compound there. In December, he was in northern Syria, writing about the lives of destitute, displaced Syrians and the war, according to his published reports and his communications with colleagues and editors.

"I've been here over a week and no one wants freelance because of the kidnappings. It's pretty bad here," he e-mailed another journalist. "I've been sleeping at a front, hiding from tanks the past few nights, drinking rain water."

In August 2013, telling colleagues he understood the dangers, Sotloff returned to Syria, slipping across the border from Turkey. He was quickly kidnapped and fell into the hands of Islamic State, the violent militant group that wants to establish a jihadist hub in the heart of the Arab world.

Islamic State said in a video released by a monitoring group on Tuesday that it had beheaded Sotloff, 31, in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group, the second such killing of a U.S. journalist in two weeks. His family said in a statement they believed he had been killed.

Colleagues and acquaintances recalled Sotloff as a generous man fascinated by journalism and the changes gripping the Middle East, and determined to tell stories from the perspective of average people, not army movements on the battlefield.

"He struck me as a very, very decent guy ... he wasn't chasing headlines, he wasn't hyping a pitch," said James Denton, publisher and editor of the Washington-based journal World Affairs, one of several publications that hired him for freelance work. Others included TIME and Foreign Policy.

"He wanted to get the story, he wanted to peel away the layers," said Denton, who met Sotloff over coffee in Washington in May 2013, and published two of his dispatches from Cairo the following July.


The precise circumstances of Sotloff's abduction in the first week of August 2013 remain unclear, as does the identity of his original kidnappers.

One individual familiar with the case said the family's theory had been that Sotloff was grabbed by a criminal gang, and later transferred or "sold" to Islamic State. This could not be confirmed by his family, which declined interview requests.

His plight burst into the open on Aug. 19, when he appeared at the end of an Internet video

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