Skip to main content

ISIS captive's mother: 'He's an innocent journalist'

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 4:20 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shirley Sotloff pleads directly to the leader of ISIS
  • "Please release my child," she says
  • Steven Sotloff disappeared while reporting in Syria last year

(CNN) -- A mother's plea to the terrorists holding her son hostage: No individual should be punished for events he cannot control.

The mother is Shirley Sotloff, and she speaks directly to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video broadcast Wednesday on Al Arabiya Network.

Her son, freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, appeared last week in an ISIS video showing the decapitation of American journalist James Foley.

The militant in the video warns that Steven Sotloff's fate depends on what President Barack Obama does next in Iraq.

ISIS is threatening to execute Steven Joel Sotloff
ISIS is threatening to execute Steven Joel Sotloff
Shirley Sotloff made a plea for her son\'s life to the leader of ISIS
Shirley Sotloff made a plea for her son's life to the leader of ISIS

A day after the video was posted, Obama vowed that the United States would be "relentless" in striking back against ISIS.

"Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson," Shirley Sotloff said in the rare public appeal. "He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak."

The journalist has no control over what the United States government does, and he should not be held responsible for its actions, she says.

"He's an innocent journalist," she said.

Friends of ISIS captive Sotloff speak out admiringly of his talent, passion

The mother appeals to al-Baghdadi's self-declared title of caliph of the Islamic State.

As caliph, he has the power to grant amnesty to Steven Sotloff, the mother said.

"I ask you to please release my child," she said.

Steven Sotloff disappeared while reporting from Syria in August 2013, but his family kept the news secret, fearing harm to him if they went public.

Out of public view, the family and a number of government agencies have been trying to gain Sotloff's release for the past year.

Sotloff, 31, grew up in South Florida with his mother, father and younger sister. He majored in journalism at the University of Central Florida. His personal Facebook page lists musicians like the Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Miles Davis and movies like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Big Lebowski" as favorites. On his Twitter page, he playfully identifies himself as a "stand-up philosopher from Miami."

In 2004, Sotloff left UCF and moved back to the Miami area.

He graduated from another college, began taking Arabic classes and subsequently picked up freelance writing work for a number of publications, including Time, Foreign Policy, World Affairs and the Christian Science Monitor. His travels took him to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey -- among other countries -- and eventually Syria.

The following is the full text of Shirley Sotloff's video statement:

I'm sending this message to you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ... the caliph of the Islamic State.

I am Shirley Sotloff. My son, Steven, is in your hands. Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants.

Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson. He's an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak.

We've not seen Stephen for over a year, and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.

Since Stephen's capture, I've learned a lot about Islam. I've learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others.

Stephen has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He's an innocent journalist.

I've always learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty. 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.

I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to set the example of the Prophet Mohammed, who protected people of the Book.

I want what every mother wants: to live to see her children's children.

I plead with you to grant me this.

Opinion: Foley is a reminder why freelance reporting is so dangerous

CNN's Brian Stelter and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
ISIS
updated 8:30 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
The FBI warns U.S military that ISIS are looking for individuals who may be interested in carrying out attacks on home soil.
updated 11:07 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Iraq's Prime Minister says there is evidence of 50,000 soldiers being paid while inactive.
updated 6:17 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Pentagon insider Ashton Carter is expected to be President Barack Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary.
updated 6:32 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Wolf Blitzer talks to Rep. Ed Royce about the White House's new ISIS strategy that involves removing Bashar al-Assad.
updated 6:36 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Just two weeks ago, Yasir was regularly strapped into an explosive vest and handed a pistol, an AK-47 and a radio to stand guard at an ISIS base in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor.
updated 5:49 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
How did three U.S. teenagers become radicalized? CNN's Pamela Brown reports.
updated 9:26 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Reza Aslan examines the appeal of ISIS and why the group is able to successfully attract so many recruits.
updated 9:10 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Former U.S. Commander Lt. General Mark Hertling (Ret.) says it is tough for him to watch what is unfolding in Iraq.
updated 9:18 AM EST, Mon November 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh takes a look at how ISIS is using media to desensitize children.
updated 7:33 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
A new propaganda video from ISIS features a Canadian ISIS member who died in combat.
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Captured ISIS fighters tell CNN's Ivan Watson of the group's brutality.
updated 9:33 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
British hostage John Cantlie appears from the battle city of Kobani.
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
updated 1:20 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
As a U.S. soldier, Jordan Matson never saw combat, yet now he's in Syria, fighting for the Kurdish militia. "All my life, I've wanted to be a soldier," he tells CNN's Ivan Watson.
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
The New York Times reports that James Foley and other ISIS captives were tortured and starved ahead of their beheadings.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Is ISIS propaganda successful in getting 'lone wolf' terrorists to strike in western countries?
updated 12:48 AM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Ivan Watson explains why the United States' support of a Kurdish fighting group may cause friction with a NATO ally.
updated 9:57 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Another casualty of ISIS' ruthless advance: Iraq's pricelss cultural heritage.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
ADVERTISEMENT