Journalist beheaded by ISIS in Syria was son of Philly-born man

This image made from video posted on the Internet by Islamic State militants and provided by the SITEIntelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism watchdog, on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, shows journalist Steven Sotloff. The Arabic text at the bottom of the frame translates to "Now is the time for my message." (AP Photo)
This image made from video posted on the Internet by Islamic State militants and provided by the SITEIntelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism watchdog, on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, shows journalist Steven Sotloff. The Arabic text at the bottom of the frame translates to "Now is the time for my message." (AP Photo)
Posted: September 05, 2014

STEVEN Joel Sotloff, the American journalist beheaded by a masked Islamic State militant in Syria, had ties to Philadelphia, a family friend confirmed last night.

Sotloff's father, Arthur Sotloff, is a 1965 graduate of Overbrook High School and grew up in Overbrook Park before moving in the 1970s to South Florida where Steven Sotloff was raised, according to Steven Bernstein, who grew up with Arthur Sotloff and also moved to Florida from Philly.

Yesterday, President Obama publicly confirmed the authenticity of a video of the cloaked ISIS militant using a knife to behead the younger Sotloff, 31, a freelance journalist for publications including Time and Foreign Policy who was captured by Islamic militants during a reporting excursion to Aleppo, Syria, in August 2013.

And yesterday Bernstein had the chance to speak with his grieving longtime friend.

Arthur Sotloff is "as well as anybody could be expected" to be, Bernstein told the Daily News in a telephone interview. "Right now, he's probably in shock, although I spoke to him earlier today and he seems calm. The funeral's this Friday at 1 o'clock [in Florida], and I'm sure that's going to be the first reality check."

Arthur Sotloff was deeply proud of Steven, his only son and the older of two children, Bernstein said, and would often share stories his son wrote during the years he spent covering conflicts in the Middle East. Steven Sotloff's reporting took him around the embattled region, and some of his most notable stories chronicled the conflict in Libya around the time of the fall of dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

Bernstein called Steven Sotloff a hero and said his capture last year weighed heavily on his family, who strove to keep it secret for fear that publicity could put the young journalist in more danger. Bernstein was one of few people close to the Sotloff family who knew of his disappearance in Syria.

"Steven . . . was one of the very best who put his life on the line every day just to bring the truth to the world," Bernstein said. "It's unfortunate that his biggest scoop was him being murdered. He, along with James Foley [another American journalist beheaded by ISIS], really made the entire world aware of how dangerous this group is and how quickly they need to be extinguished."

During the time his son was held captive, Arthur Sotloff was "cautiously optimistic," Bernstein said. The family understood the dangers Steven Sotloff's job posed but was proud of his unshakable drive to give voice to the voiceless.

"He knew that the chances were he'd never see his son alive again, but he always held out hope and [said] how proud he was of his son and that he would risk his life," Bernstein said. "Because he did know there was a certain danger to what he did. He was aware of that, but he was willing to take that risk."

Bernstein had just seen Arthur Sotloff a few weeks ago, when the two got together for a beach trip days before Arthur Sotloff and his wife wound up traveling to Washington, D.C., in the wake of Foley's murder. There, Shirley Sotloff made a televised plea last week to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, begging for mercy on her son.

"He's an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak," Shirley Sotloff said of her son during her appeal to the heartless militants. "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."

Bernstein said that as far as he knew, Steven Sotloff had intended for his most recent reporting trip to Syria to be his last to the Middle East for the foreseeable future. He planned to return home to the U.S. and pursue a master's degree, Bernstein said.

Bernstein did not know the young journalist well, but said that in the few times he had met him, he was good-natured, with a good sense of humor. He had learned Arabic as part of his job, and Bernstein said he had hoped the young man's personality may have made his captives take a liking to him enough to spare his life.

"Obviously these guys are brutal savages that have no regard for anything," Bernstein said.

"The best story he ever wrote - he wasn't around long enough to read it - was his death."


On Twitter: @morganzalot

Blog: PhillyConfidential.com

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|