UK

Mystery Over Timing Of Steven Sotloff Killing As Video Release Catches Islamic State On The Hop

03/09/2014 11:33 BST | Updated 03/09/2014 11:59 BST

Questions have been raised over the editing and timing of the videoed beheading of US journalist Steven Sotloff, with speculation mounting that the killing may have taken place at the same time as that of fellow reporter James Foley in August.

Early Wednesday, British analysts confirmed the Islamic State video is genuine and features the same militant with an apparently British voice, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said. He confirmed UK Government had been aware of a British citizen being held by IS for some time and was looking at every possible option to protect the hostage.

The release of the video was not discovered on the Islamic State's official channels, but by a private intelligence group, and its distribution appears to have caught the jihadists on the hop.

sotloff

American journalist Steven Sotloff (Center with black helmet) was killed on camera

The SITE intelligence group, which monitors jihadist internet activity, said it had discovered the video on a file-sharing site and sent it to its subscriber list.

Some of the jihadists expresses surprise on social media that the video had apparently leaked.

One ISIS-affiliated twitter account was the first to tweet the video, but was swiftly reprimanded by another account, @Khattabyaz.

The group then apologised for the mis-timing of the video in an Arabic statement on Justpaste, first published by Vocativ:

“A clarification about the mistake was made by “Uyun al-Ummah” account, that has published the video before the official time," the statement opens.

Its social media followers "saw a tweet with the video and thought it was published officially.

"We tried to remove the video after we understood that his was published by mistake, and we are sorry to the followers of the Islamic State.”

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Speaking to The Wire, SITE's Joe Cleffie said the group found the video on "one of the jihadi forums."

"We wouldn't send it out without verifying it," he added.

The Wall Street Journal reported that some US government officials believe that Sotloff was actually likely to have been killed immediately after Foley in August, with the jihadists delaying the release of the second video to heighten the impact.

The paper quoted an official said a British hostage, named as the next to be executed by the group, could also already be dead.

Three questionable edits have also been raised by those who have viewed the video; the blurry fades that bookend the film, the fade to black before the actual beheading, as with Foley, and the slightly robotic sound of the murderer's voice, leading to some speculation that it may have been dubbed in.

The production of the two films is strikingly alike, both of the murdered men wore orange pajama suits, with mics clipped to the collars. The Arabic subtitles and English names use a similar font, and the Sotloff video has the sequential title: 'A Second Message to America'. Like with Foley, the video shows a knife at Sotloff's throat, before fading to black and showing his decapitated body.

Eliot Higgins, the photo analyst from the blog Brown Moses and Bellingcat website who identified the spot near the hills of Raqqa where Foley was likely killed, said he did not think the two beheadings had taken place at the same time.

The green hills that could be seen in the distance of the Foley video were not there in the Sotloff shot, but the landscape is similar.

"It took a couple of days to narrow down the location of the James Foley video, but based on what I've had chance to look at in the last 30 minutes it appears to be a different location," Higgins said. "Sotloff's hair is certainly longer than it was in the James Foley video, and he [the executioner] references recent events.

"It's clear in the Sotloff video he has more hair growth on his scalp and face than in the Foley video, despite what some people have been saying."

In the video, the killer, who appears to be the same man with the British accent nicknamed 'Jihad John' states: "I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and [muffled] in Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings.

"So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people."

Most video hosting website, including YouTube and LiveLeak, had the video uploaded to their sites but the films were quickly removed.