Pinecrest journalist Steven Sotloff’s kidnapping raises debate over paying ransom to terrorists

Gruesome video was haunting for Colombian woman in Miami, whose dad did not survive terrorists’ kidnapping for ransom

MIAMI – Ever since bloodthirsty Islamic State militants beheaded journalist James Wright Foley, Angelica Jaramillo has been waiting to learn the fate of a 31-year-old man from Pinecrest they threatened to kill next.

In the video, an Islamic State militant said that Steven Joel Sotloff's life depended on whether or not U.S. airstrikes continued in Iraq. Jaramillo, who was born in Colombia and lives in Kendall, is not related to Foley or Sotloff in any way, yet she said the militants' video brought up a deep-rooted pain and anger.

Jaramillo said she remembered how distraught she was when the socialist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia kidnapped her dad in 1997, and experts helping the family also advised against talking to the media. They also asked them not to report it to authorities. Her dad did not survive.

"The notion in Colombia for a long time has been that you don't negotiate with terrorists. The families of the abductees do not care about politics. They just want them back," Jaramillo said in Spanish. "I know that the circumstances are different, but the pain and the frustration they [the reporters' families] must be feeling is familiar."

The U.S. Treasury Department said this week that the U.S. does not support paying ransoms to terror groups, because it encourages more kidnappings. Britain officials agree. The two countries claimed European and Persian Gulf governments' ransoms were the Islamic extremists' main source of income.

At least $125 million in ransoms have funded militants since 2008, The New York Times reported last month.

The U.S. also did not give in to the militants' demands. Hours after the release of the gruesome video, U.S. airstrikes intensified. U.S. first strike was August 8th. Fighter jets and drones have executed at least 84 air raids since.

U.S. officials said that before Foley was killed there was a failed rescue mission. They also said militants had demanded a $132.5 million ransom for Foley's release that they refused to pay.

Jaramillo said the U.S. releasing five Guantánamo Bay detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a good example of what the U.S. could have done to save Foley and what they can still do to save Sotloff. Foley's last words were haunting for Jaramillo, who has Foley's same age.

"I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed," Foley, 40, said before a militant beheaded him. "I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn't American."

Jaramillo said she felt the same way about being Colombian, because of the ongoing conflict and the government's policies that she claims sometimes betray the victims.

"It's easy for families who love to get caught in the middle of the hate of war," Jaramillo said in Spanish.

Foley's younger brother, Michael Foley, said during an interview with Katie Couric that the U.S. should consider a prisoner swap. Foley's father, John Foley, said during a press conference that he pleaded with President Barack Obama to "do whatever he could possibly do."

"I really, really hope that in some way Jim's death pushes us to take another look at our approach, our policy, to terrorists and hostage negotiations and rethink that,"  Foley, 38, said. "Because if the United States is doing it one way and Europe is doing it another way, by definition it won't work."

Jaramillo was not the only one to have dark memories rise, after Foley's public execution. In 2008, Taliban militants kidnapped Reuters' investigative reporter David Rohde. After seven months and 10 days, Rohde escaped. After watching the video showing Foley's death and Sotloff's threat, he was moved to write an opinion piece.

Foley's execution is "the clearest evidence yet of how vastly different responses to kidnappings by U.S. and European governments save European hostages but can doom the Americans," Rohde said. "Hostages and their families realize this fully - even if the public does not."

Sotloff's family has kept quiet. Pinecrest Police Department and the South Florida Congressional delegation have been supportive. Sotloff's sister's boyfriend posted a link to a petition on Facebook asking Obama to "take immediate action to save Steven's life by any means necessary."

Jaramillo said she shared the petition on social media. She said that she dreams of a world where kidnappings of innocents are not used in war. The Islamic State militants' cruelty is unlike anything she has ever seen, Jaramillo said. Her dad's kidnapping and death changed her forever, she said.

"He left one morning to work and I never saw him again. He wasn't at my wedding," Jaramillo said. "He never met his grandchildren and you wonder if the government understands your pain. The U.S. really needs to consider the reporter's family and their pain and they need to do what ever they can. It's their duty."

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The Associated Press, CNN and ABC News contributed to this report.

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.