BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of AmericaU.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) posted a news report on today’s reported beheading of American journalist Steven Joel Sotloff by the extremist group Islamic State, but as of 8:45 PM EDT Tuesday, September 2, 2014, VOA failed to mention Bashar Fahmi, the missing reporter of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) and VOA’s sister outlet Alhurra TV, and failed to report on the BBG statement, in which BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said that “the kidnapping and murders of Steven Sotloff and James Foley were barbaric and abhorrent acts of violence against innocent Americans who were reporting from Syria.”

Shell renewed the BBG’s call for anyone with information regarding Fahmi to come forward, but Voice of America failed to report on his call for information (as of 8:45 PM EDT, September 2, 2014).

On the positive side, this VOA report has more relevant information, including Congressional reactions, than most similar VOA English News reports in recent months and years.

This news item was also posted rather promptly instead of VOA being many hours behind other major international broadcasters, which has been the case with many recent VOA news stories.

However, the Voice of America news report today still failed to include critical information concerning a missing Alhurra TV journalist and the BBG statement on the murder of Steven Sotloff and the uncertain fate of Bashar Fahmi. The statement was issued today by VOA’s parent agency, the BBG, which oversees both VOA and Alhurra TV.

Islamic State Video Shows Beheading of US Journalist Sotloff

VOA News

Last updated on: September 02, 2014 4:24 PM

An Internet video uploaded Tuesday by Islamic State purports to show the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff.

A masked figure in the video also issue a threat against a British hostage, a man the group named as David Haines, and warned governments to back off “this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State,” the SITE monitoring service reported.

The purported killer addresses President Barack Obama, saying Sotloff’s death was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the militants.

The militant says, “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said officials are checking into the video’s authenticity. If it’s genuine, Psaki said, “we are sickened.”

The images follow last month’s video release of the gruesome beheading of U.S. freelance journalist Jim Foley.

Video appears authentic

A source familiar with the matter said that while U.S. officials have yet to formally confirm the validity of the video, it appeared to be authentic.

Iraq’s outgoing foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari, condemned what he called “this savage killing…an example of savagery and evil,” and he said this was evidence of the need for Iraq and the West to defeat the Islamic State.

“We have a common enemy and the whole world is moving in the right direction to stop this savagery and brutality,” said Zebari. “The whole world is standing united against IS. They must be defeated so these horrid scenes will not be repeated.”

Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim politician Sami Askari, who is close to outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said, “They are trying to scare the Americans not to intervene. I don’t think Washington will be scared and stop. This is evil. Every human being has to fight this phenomenon. Like cancer, there is no cure. You have to fight it.”

Officials comment

White House spokesman Josh Earnest could not confirm the execution, but told reporters “our thoughts and prayers” are with Sotloff’s family.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called Sotloff’s murder “disgusting and despicable.”

Sotloff was taken captive in Syria in August 2013, roughly a year after Foley was taken hostage. He worked for Time and Foreign Policy magazines.

The video has clear echoes of Foley’s murder. As with Foley, Sotloff appears in an orange jumpsuit; his killer is dressed in black, his face hidden.

Like Foley, Sotloff is forced to kneel in what appears to be a strip of desert before being beheaded.

It was unclear when the video was shot.

The Islamic State group has seized a large swath of land across eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, declaring the area a “caliphate.”

The United States has been conducting airstrikes in coordination with Iraq’s government against the group since early August.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said Tuesday the U.S. would continue airstrikes to disrupt the Islamic State group’s ability to harm U.S. personnel and facilities. The raids also support further humanitarian aid to those persecuted by the extremist group.

Amnesty International on Tuesday said it had evidence Islamic State militants are conducting a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, carrying out war crimes that include mass summary killings and abductions.

Congressional reaction

U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel condemned the killing and called for the formation of an international coalition to defeat the extremist group.

“If we don’t disrupt and defeat it,” Engel warned, its members “will attack homelands all over the world.” The U.S. lawmaker is the ranking Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Royce, the committee’s chairman, issued a statement saying he was “disgusted by what appears to be another horrendous killing of an American journalist at the hands of ISIS.” He used that acronym for the group, adding his sympathies to Sotloff’s family.

“… Sadly, ISIS is bringing this barbarity across the region — beheading and crucifying those who don’t share their dark ideology,” said Royce. “The threat from this group seems to grow by the day. Working with key allies, the United States needs to be acting urgently to arm the Kurds on the ground who are fighting them, and targeting ISIS from the air with drone strikes.”

Royce said his committee will hold a hearing on the threat posed by the Islamic State after Congress returns next week. Engel said that after the 60 days allotted in the War Powers Act is over, President Obama should come to Congress to ask for the authorization of more airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.

A Sotloff family spokesman said it is aware of the video and is grieving privately.

Mother’s appeal

On August 27, Sotloff’s mother, Shirley Sotloff, issued a video plea to IS’s leader during which she described her son as an “honorable man” who should not be punished for U.S. government actions.

“I’ve learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others,” she said on the video posted on YouTube. “Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He is an innocent journalist. I’ve also learned that you, the Caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child.”

Material for this report came from Reuters. Cindy Saine contributed reporting from Washington.


BBG Condemns Reported Murder Of U.S. Journalist Steven Sotloff


WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors strongly condemns the reported beheading of American journalist Steven Joel Sotloff by the extremist group Islamic State, and the threat to murder another hostage, David Cawthorne Haines.

“The kidnapping and murders of Steven Sotloff and James Foley were barbaric and abhorrent acts of violence against innocent Americans who were reporting from Syria,” said Jeff Shell, chairman of the BBG. “Killing journalists will not silence the truth about what is happening now at the hands of the Islamic State. Information warfare should not be fought with innocent lives.”

These videos were released two years after Alhurra TV reporter Bashar Fahmi went missing in Aleppo, Syria.  There has been no word regarding his whereabouts or well-being since then.  Shell renewed the BBG’s call for anyone with information regarding Fahmi to come forward.