Early in the morning of August 4, 2013, Steven Sotloff walked across the border from southern Turkey into Syria. He passed through three security checkpoints, then a no man's land between the two countries, on a road surrounded by olive groves, yellow flowers, and leftover mines. Sotloff, a stocky, bearded 30-year-old journalist and Miami native, was headed to Aleppo, some 40 miles south, to cover the two-year-old civil war. He expected to be back in a few days.
|Illustration by Brian Stauffer|
The trip would be his last to Syria. He was thinking of returning home soon and maybe applying to graduate school.
Around 10 a.m., he met his fixer and translator, Yosef Abobaker, just inside the border. Abobaker arrived in a yellow Nissan microbus with his brother and two cousins, who would serve as security guards. The journalist took a seat on the middle bench and the Nissan drove off, but after only ten minutes, the vehicle stopped. Three black luxury station wagons were parked along the narrow highway. As the microbus approached, roughly twenty men, clutching Kalashnikovs and wearing black turbans around their faces, exited the cars and lined up across the road.
"When I saw them," Abobaker recalls, "I took my handgun — I'm thinking to shoot. But if I shoot, they will kill everybody."
The men yanked open the Nissan's doors and pulled out the occupants. "Who are you?" Abobaker yelled in Arabic. "What do you want?"
"Us kut!" one man yelled back. "Shut up! Don't talk!"More »