A mother's plea to Islamic State: 'Please release my child'

In a video, Shirley Sotloff appealed directly to the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State, asking that her son, American journalist Steven Sotloff, not be punished 'for matters he has no control over.'

Al Arabiya/Reuters
Shirley Sotloff, the mother of American journalist Steven Sotloff, who is being held by Islamic rebels in Syria, makes a direct appeal to his captors to release him in this still image from a video released Aug. 26. Mr. Sotloff went missing in Syria last year while covering the conflict there. The Islamic State released a video last week in which he can be seen kneeling following the filmed execution of fellow journalist James Foley.

The mother of an American journalist held captive by Islamic militants issued a calm but passionate plea for the release of her son Wednesday.

Shirley Sotloff appealed directly to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State (IS) in a video aired Wednesday on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television network.

“I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over,” she said in the video.

Steven Sotloff was last heard from in August 2013 while he was reporting from the Middle East as a freelance reporter. The circumstances of his capture are so far unknown. His parents had requested that the media not publicize the kidnapping because IS had threatened to kill their son if they leaked news of his capture to the press.

The militants broke their own media blackout on Aug. 19 in a video titled "A Message to America," in which a hooded man executed American journalist James Foley in retaliation for the US airstrikes against IS in Iraq. A kneeling Mr. Sotloff appeared at the end of the video, as an IS fighter proclaimed, “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

In her appeal, Ms. Sotloff said that she had spent time learning about Islam since her son’s capture and implored Mr. Baghdadi to apply the teachings of the prophet Muhammad to her son’s case.

“I have learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others," she pleaded. "Steven has no control over the actions of the US government. He’s an innocent journalist.”

Sotloff went on to explain that her son had felt compelled to travel to the Middle East “to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants.”

Prior to his disappearance, the freelancer reported from, among other places, Syria, Libya, and Egypt for a variety of international publications including Foreign Policy, Time.com, and the World Affairs Journal. The Christian Science Monitor published three of his pieces between 2010 and 2012.

James Denton, publisher and editor in chief of World Affairs, acknowledges that Sotloff had occasionally contributed to the journal.

“He is known to us as an honest and thoughtful journalist who strives to understand the story from local perspectives and report his findings straightforwardly,” Mr. Denton said in an e-mail statement provided to the Associated Press. “He is certainly courageous.”

The threat against Sotloff and the execution of Mr. Foley have underscored the enormity of risk that journalists – especially freelancers – face when covering conflict zones. So far this year, 32 journalists have been killed around the world while on the job, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. 

"Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with at least 70 killed covering the conflict," according to the CPJ.

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