A mother’s plea to terrorists

Woman begs for life of her son, held hostage in Syria

  • This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Sotloff's mother, Shirley Sotloff, pleaded for his release Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in a video message aimed directly at his captors that aired on the Al-Arabiya television network. (AP Photo)

    This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Sotloff's mother, Shirley Sotloff, pleaded for his release Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in a video message aimed directly at his captors that aired on the Al-Arabiya television network. (AP Photo)

  • In this image made from video obtained on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, Shirley Sotloff, who lives in Florida, appeals to the captors of her son, freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, 31, who was last seen in Syria in August 2013. On a video released on Aug. 19, 2014, he was threatened with death by militants from the Islamic State unless the U.S. stopped air strikes on the group in Iraq. The same video showed the beheading of fellow American journalist James Foley. (AP Photo)

    In this image made from video obtained on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, Shirley Sotloff, who lives in Florida, appeals to the captors of her son, freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, 31, who was last seen in Syria in August 2013. On a video released on Aug. 19, 2014, he was threatened with death by militants from the Islamic State unless the U.S. stopped air strikes on the group in Iraq. The same video showed the beheading of fellow American journalist James Foley. (AP Photo)

  • This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Sotloff's mother, Shirley Sotloff, pleaded for his release Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in a video message aimed directly at his captors that aired on the Al-Arabiya television network. (AP Photo)
  • In this image made from video obtained on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, Shirley Sotloff, who lives in Florida, appeals to the captors of her son, freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, 31, who was last seen in Syria in August 2013. On a video released on Aug. 19, 2014, he was threatened with death by militants from the Islamic State unless the U.S. stopped air strikes on the group in Iraq. The same video showed the beheading of fellow American journalist James Foley. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT — The mother of a hostage American journalist pleaded for his release Wednesday in a video directed at the Islamic State group, while new images emerged of mass killings, including masked militants shooting kneeling men after the capture of a strategic air base in Syria.

Shirley Sotloff’s plea came as a U.N. commission accused the group, which dominates a broad swath of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, of committing crimes against humanity and President Barack Obama weighs options for targeting the extremists’ stronghold in Syria.

The Islamic State militants have threatened to kill 31-year-old Steven Sotloff unless the U.S. halts its airstrikes against it.

Sotloff, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, had last been seen in Syria in August 2013 until he appeared in a video released online last week by the Islamic State group showing the beheading of fellow American journalist, James Foley. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against the backdrop of an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the group in Iraq.

Addressing the leader of the Islamic State group by name, Shirley Sotloff said her son was “an innocent journalist” who shouldn’t pay for U.S. government actions in the Middle East over which he has no control.

Appealing directly to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who describes himself as a caliph, or Islamic leader intending to lead the Muslim world, she implored him to show mercy and follow the example of the prophet Muhammad.

“You, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you, please, to release my child. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life,” Shirley Sotloff said on the video, which was first aired on the Al-Arabiya television network. It was widely retweeted by Islamic State supporters later Wednesday with her face blurred because their ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam prohibits showing a woman’s face.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters he did not know whether Obama had seen Shirley Sotloff’s video appeal, but he said the administration was “deeply engaged” in trying to gain release of all Americans held hostage in the Middle East.

“She obviously, as is evident from the video, feels desperate about the safety and well-being of her son, and understandably so, and that is why our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sotloff’s family at this very difficult and trying time,” Earnest said.

Meanwhile, new images emerged of the extremists’ bloody takeover of an air base in northeastern Syria.

In one photo posted on the militant group’s website, masked gunmen were seen shooting seven men kneeling on the ground, some dressed in what appeared to be Syrian military uniforms, after the seizure of the Tabqa air base in the province of Raqqa earlier this week.

Videos uploaded to social media networks also showed the aftermath of the battle, including footage of the charred bodies of Syrian soldiers. One video showed about 200 captured soldiers being marched through the desert in their underwear to an unknown fate as militants made the sounds of shepherds herding goats or sheep.

The images emerged as a U.N. commission accused the group of committing crimes against humanity in Syria. The U.N. had earlier accused the group of similar crimes in Iraq.

“This is a continuation — and a geographic expansion — of the widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population” by the Islamic State group, said the four-member commission chaired by Brazilian diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

Pinheiro told reporters one of the most disturbing findings was the existence of large training camps where boys, some as young as 14, are recruited and trained to fight alongside adult Islamic State fighters.

The report, based on 480 interviews and documentary material, cited dozens of public executions in Aleppo and Raqqa during the bloody Syrian civil war that activists say has killed more than 190,000 people since 2011.

The report cited how the group’s fighters have beheaded or shot civilians, mostly adult men, accused of violating their harsh interpretation of religious law, as crowds of people, including children, have looked on. The purpose, according to the commission, is “to instill terror among the population, ensuring submission to its authority.”

The U.N. commission report, which is investigating potential war crimes in Syria, also said Wednesday that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad likely used chlorine gas to attack civilians.

It was the first time the U.N. assigned blame for the use of the chemical agent.

“In Syria, it is total impunity,” said commission member Carla del Ponte, a Swiss former war crimes prosecutor. “Crimes are committed each day, from all parties, and nobody’s dealing with the criminal responsibility for those crimes.”

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