Steven Sotloff, the South Florida journalist beheaded by Islamic militants last week, was not betrayed by moderate Syrian opposition groups who are seeking military support from the United States, the White House said Tuesday, denying an accusation by a Sotloff family spokesman.
“Based on the information that has been provided to me, I don't believe that is accurate,” Obama administration spokesman Josh Earnest said at Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
He was responding to a charge made Monday night on CNN by Barak Barfi, who has been the public voice of the Sotloff family since the abduction of 31-year-old Steven Sotloff was made public late last month by the Islamic State, a fundamentalist militia group trying to create a Muslim theocracy in a wide-swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
Barfi said that the family had learned from “sources on the ground” that one of Syria’s moderate opposition groups — in return for a bounty of between $25,000 and $50,000 — tipped off the Islamic State that Sotloff was about to cross into the country from Turkey on a reporting trip.
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After the tip from “the so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support,” Barfi said, Sotloff was abducted at a phony government checkpoint set up by the Islamic State. Thirteen months after his August 2013 kidnapping, a video of Sotloff’s decapitation was posted on the Internet.
Barfi said the Sotloff family had clashed with the Obama administration over its response to the kidnapping. “The relationship within the administration and the Sotloff family was very strained,” he said. We do not believe that they gave us a cooperation we need.”
After the Islamic State publicly announced it was holding Sotloff, in an Internet video in which another American hostage was decapitated, “the Sotloff family made one simple request of the administration and they were rebuffed on that,” Barfi added.
He would not reveal the nature of the request. “I have to think about protecting the other hostages inside,” Barfi said. The Islamic State is believed to be holding several other foreigners. And, he added, U.S. government leaks have already complicated the hostages’ plight.
“We know that the intelligence community and the White House are enmeshed in the larger game of bureaucratic infighting and Jim [Foley, the American journalist murdered earlier] and Steve are pawns in that game and that’s not fair,” Barfi said. “And if there continues to be leaks, the Sotloff family will have to speak out to set the record straight.”
President Obama is scheduled to make a speech at 9 p.m. Wednesday, revealing his strategy for “degrading and ultimately destroying the terrorist group,” White House spokesman Earnest said. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio and a bipartisan group of four other senators have proposed legislation that would post a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of the Islamic State militants who killed Sotloff and Foley.