BEIRUT: The Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS released a video posted Tuesday showing the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, and warning President Barack Obama that as long as U.S. airstrikes against the jihadists continue, “our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
The footage, depicting what the U.S. called a sickening act of brutality, was posted two weeks after the release of video showing the killing of James Foley and days after Sotloff’s mother pleaded for his life.
Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the Sotloff family, confirmed the death.
“The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately. There will be no public comment from the family during this difficult time,” Barfi said.
Sotloff, 31, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, vanished in Syria in August 2013 and was not seen again until he appeared in a video released online last month that showed Foley’s beheading. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against the backdrop of an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened in that video with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the group in Iraq.
In the video distributed Tuesday and titled “A Second Message to America,” Sotloff appears in a similar jumpsuit before he is beheaded by an ISIS fighter.
The SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism watchdog, first reported about the video’s existence. Unlike Foley’s beheading, which was widely shared on Twitter accounts affiliated with ISIS, the video purporting to show Sotloff’s killing was not immediately posted online, though several jihadi websites told users to expect it.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. intelligence analysis will “work as quickly as possible” to determine if the video is authentic.
“If the video is genuine, we are sickened by this brutal act, taking the life of another innocent American citizen,” Psaki said. She added that “a few” Americans are believed to still be held by ISIS but would not give any specifics.
The fighter who beheads Sotloff in the video called it retribution for Washington’s continued airstrikes against the group in Iraq.
“I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State ... despite our serious warnings,” the fighter said, using the group’s latest name. “So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
He also threatened to kill a third captive, a Briton, David Cawthorne Haines. Officials with the British Foreign Office declined to immediately comment on Haines.
In Syria, government forces carried out their fiercest assault on the rebel stronghold of Jobar in Damascus since the start of the war, conducting at least 27 airstrikes and killing a child, according to activists and rights groups.
The government is trying to retake Jobar after the capture of several rebel-held areas around the center of the capital this summer, including the town of Mliha on Aug. 14.
Separately, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, which is holding 45 Fijian peacekeepers hostage, issued a set of demands for their release, including the extremist group’s removal from a U.N. terrorist list and compensation for the killing of three of its fighters in a shootout with international troops, an official said.
The Nusra Front seized the Fijians Thursday in the Golan Heights and also surrounded two Filipino units, but those U.N. troops escaped over the weekend.
Speaking in the Fijian capital of Suva, military commander Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga did not say whether the rebels’ demands would be seriously considered. He said the U.N. had sent hostage negotiators to Syria to take over discussions from military leaders.