According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Sotloff had taken on Israeli citizenship when he studied in the country. That information was scrubbed from the media after he was captured, because of fears that it would decrease his chances of getting released and worsen his treatment, and only cleared by Israel’s foreign ministry on Wednesday, following the release of a video showing Sotloff’s execution.
There had previously been some close calls. The New York Times reported that Sotloff was the grandchild of Holocaust survivors in its initial report of his capture, before quickly removing the information from its website.
Former captives say that he continued observing Jewish holy days and praying while in ISIS custody. One told a Hebrew-language paper that he fasted on Yom Kippur by pretending to be ill, and prayed toward Jerusalem by observing the direction in which his Muslim captors prayed.
These revelations came after U.S. officials authenticated the beheading video, which surfaced Tuesday.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizen Steven Sotloff and has reached the judgment that it is authentic,” said a National Security Council spokesperson.
President Barack Obama was told about the video as he was leaving to Estonia. “Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served,” he said.
Sotloff is the second American journalist beheaded by ISIS, following James Foley, in a video that surfaced two weeks ago. After that execution, Sotloff’s mother pleaded with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to release her son.
“I want what every mother wants, to live to see their children’s children. I plead with you to grant me this,” she said in a video.