About the claim that Syrian “moderates” sold Sotloff to ISIS

A spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist beheaded by ISIS last week, claims that Sotloff was sold to ISIS by “so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support.” He based this claim on information from “sources on the ground” that the Sotloff family deems credible. The spokesman did not identify the rebel group the family believes was responsible for selling Sotloff to ISIS.

I don’t doubt (1) that there are groups in Syria that trade, sell, and/or barter victims of kidnappings and (2) that some of these groups are rebels against Assad. Moreover, because ISIS is the most extreme group operating in Syria, any group that sold victims to ISIS could, perhaps, be characterized as “moderate” by comparison.

The claim that the specific Syrian opposition the U.S. is considering supporting engages in kidnapping/trading or otherwise participated in the Sotloff tragedy is a different matter. In fact, the Sotloff family spokesman doesn’t really make that claim. He speaks in terms of “rebels that people want our administration to support.” Which people? Which rebels?

Moreover, the information he relies on comes from “sources on the ground.” Which sources? Obviously, it is in the interest of some players — both pro and anti-Assad — to try to blame the Sotloff tragedy on groups the U.S. is thinking about assisting, so as to dissuade the U.S. from providing assistance. How does the Sotloff spokesman know this isn’t what’s happening here?

It would, of course, be folly for a group that hopes to work militarily with the U.S. to be a party to the kidnapping of an American, much less to sell an American to the ISIS barbarians. Supposedly, the sale was for between $25,000 and $50,000. No rational group would jeopardize the receipt of U.S. assistance for that amount.

This doesn’t preclude the possibility that an opportunistic member or ex-member of such a group might have been involved with the kidnapping and/or the swap of Sotloff. But the Sotloff family presents no credible evidence that this was the case; nor are my sources aware of any such evidence.

It would be unfortunate if unsupported claims related to the Sotloff tragedy dissuaded the U.S. from assisting forces in Syria that want to fight the group that butchered Sotloff.

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