The U.S. has no evidence that suggests information about American journalist Steven Sotloff was sold to Islamic State militants by moderate Syrian opposition rebels, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told the media Tuesday in a briefing. Islamic State, or ISIS, militants released a two-minute, 46-second video Sept. 2 that shows the beheading of the 31-year-old journalist, kidnapped in Syria last summer.
Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the Sotloff family and foreign policy research fellow at the New American Foundation, told CNN Monday night the Sotloffs believed ISIS paid Syrian rebels up to $50,000 for information that Steven was in Syria.
“We believe that these so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support, one of them sold him probably for something between $25,000 and $50,000 to ISIS and that was the reason he was captured,” Barfi said.
“Based on the information that has been provided to me, I don’t believe that is accurate,” Earnest said, citing an FBI investigation into Sotloff’s death.
According to Barfi, unnamed “sources on the ground” told Sotloff’s family a member of a Syrian rebel group told ISIS militants about Sotloff. Barfi also said the Obama administration has made a number of inaccurate statements about Sotloff’s death and Sotloff and the other American journalist ISIS recently beheaded, James Foley, were “pawns in the game.”
President Obama is seeking to increase aid to moderate Syrian opposition groups, those fighting to oust President Bashar Assad who are viewed as a tool against ISIS. After the Aug. 19 video showing Foley’s beheading, Obama authorized airstrikes in Iraq. On Wednesday at 9 p.m., Obama is to present his plan for fighting ISIS to Congress and the public.