WASHINGTON Aug 30 After Islamic State's
beheading of journalist James Foley, President Barack Obama's
administration is making little headway in efforts to secure the
release of three other Americans held by the insurgent group in
Syria, officials said.
Journalist Steven Sotloff and two others whom Reuters is not
naming are among fewer than 10 Westerners that Islamic State
(IS) is holding in kidnappings that until recently were aimed at
simply raising ransoms, they said. The U.S. government has said
it does not pay ransoms or negotiate with IS.
Washington has contacted about two dozen countries for help
in freeing the three, but no foreign government appears to have
influence over or even significant contact with IS, which has
declared an Islamic caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
"What we've found is that ISIS isn't responsive" to
outreach, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of
anonymity and using an alternate acronym for the group.
Another administration official said Washington was working
with other Western countries whose citizens are being held
hostage, and with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and
others in the region thought by the United States to possibly
have influence with the groups Al-Nusrah and IS.
The hostages' fate received little public attention until
Islamic State posted an online video on Aug. 19 showing Foley's
beheading. It now presents a frustrating challenge for Obama.
Islamic State "is far more difficult to deal with" than Iran
or the militant group Hezbollah, which also took Americans
captive, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and White House
official now at the Brookings Institution think-tank. The group
"wants to terrorize Americans, it's not really interested in
WHITE HOUSE INVOLVEMENT
U.S. officials and supporters of the remaining hostages
requested that most details about them and efforts to free them
One is Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist kidnapped in
Syria in August 2013. At the end of the video depicting Foley's
murder, a militant holding Sotloff threatened his life.
Sotloff's mother Shirley appealed on Wednesday in a
videotaped message to Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliph,
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for her son's release.
One of the other U.S. hostages is a female aid worker, age
26, for whom Islamic State has demanded $6.6 million in ransom,
according to ABC News.
Lisa Monaco, Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, has been
"very deeply involved in this," the senior U.S. official said.
Monaco, along with the State Department and Federal Bureau of
Investigation, has been in contact with hostages' families, the
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National
Security Council, said, " The Administration has had regular
interactions with the families of those Americans who have been
held hostage in Syria since the kidnapping of their loved ones.
These interactions included representatives from all the
relevant agencies, including the Department of State, the FBI,
the Intelligence Community, and the White House."
Obama authorized a covert raid in Syria in July to rescue
Foley and other American hostages, but they were not at the site
where they were thought to be held. Another rescue attempt would
be risky for U.S. special forces and the hostages.
The American diplomatic effort also is aimed at persuading
European countries not to pay ransoms, officials said.
U.S. and European officials have said that France, Spain and
Italy have tolerated or facilitated ransom payments for citizens
held in Syria. Islamic State released numerous European
journalists this year, including two Spaniards in March and four
Frenchmen in April.
The French government has denied a news report that it paid
a ransom to free the four. Spain's foreign ministry has not
commented on the matter.
The U.S. policy of refusing to pay ransoms to discourage
further hostage-taking "is as close as we are likely to come to
governments influencing ISIS on the matter of seizing hostages",
said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA analyst now at Georgetown
U.S. officials have said that Qatar played a critical role
in persuading a rival group in Syria, the official al Qaeda
affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, to free American journalist Peter
Theo Curtis, whom it had been holding since 2012.
Qatar is working to help free other Americans held captive
in Syria, a Gulf source told Reuters, but U.S. officials said
the Qatari government has little if any leverage with Islamic
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Sarah White in
Madrid; Editing by David Storey, Toni Reinhold)