The Islamic State’s official media arm, Furqan Media, has just released a video showing the beheading of American photojournalist James Wright Foley. The terrorist organization claims that the murder of an American citizen who went missing in Syria in 2012 comes as a warning to the White House to end its “intervention” in Iraq. If not, the video claims, ISIS will kill another U.S. journalist, Stephen Joel Sotloff. The Miami native, reported the Aleppo press center, was kidnapped on or around August 4, 2013. Sotloff’s life, says the video, “depends on Obama’s next decision."
Foley and Sotloff are among a number of foreign journalists that have been taken hostage in Syria. Another is Austin Tice, taken in the summer of 2012, whose brilliant reporting on the military aspects of the Syrian war was informed by his experience as Marine. The video of Tice’s abduction raised suspicions that his kidnappers were not, as the video portrays, Islamist rebels. “It’s like a caricature of a jihadi group,” Syria expert Joseph Holliday told the Washington Post. “It looks like someone went to the Internet, watched pictures of Afghan mujahedeen, then copied them.” Many observers believe the Syrian government was behind Tice’s kidnapping and sought to blame the rebels and thereby doom American support for the Free Syrian Army.
Some have drawn similar conclusions regarding Foley’s kidnapping. If ISIS drew his blood, it was the Syrian regime, as Michael Weiss and others have argued, that helped create ISIS to begin with, and it was the regime that kidnapped and held Foley. In May 2013, journalist Peter Gelling argued that Foley was likely being held by the regime. “We have obtained multiple independent reports from very credible confidential sources,” Gelling wrote in GlobalPost, “who have both indirect and direct access that confirm our assessment that Jim is now being held by the Syrian government in a prison or detention facility in the Damascus area. We further believe that this facility is under the control of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence service. Based on what we have learned, it is likely Jim is being held with one or more Western journalists, including most likely at least one other American.”
That other American may have been Tice, who sources tell me is likely still alive. What is certain is that Steven Sotloff is in a very dire situation. I know him. He’s a sweet, courageous, and imaginative American. Our paths crossed in several countries across the Middle East, including Lebanon, where his bravery, sympathy and devotion to and interest in the people of the region earned him admiration and won him many friends. During the course of the Arab Spring, he reported from virtually every spot in the Middle East—including Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and of course Syria. I recommend his stories to anyone who wants to know what that time looked like, and the hell that it turned into—the hell where Steven is now praying for his life. I am praying for it, too.