White House: Hostage wasn't 'sold' to ISIS

The Obama administration's initial intelligence surrounding the disappearance of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff does not indicate that he was turned over to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — which ultimately executed him — by moderate rebels in Syria, the White House said Tuesday.

“Based on the information that has been provided to me, I don't believe that is accurate,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. “But I do know, at the same time, that this is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. So this is something that they're looking into all aspects of this, including how Mr. Sotloff may have come into the hands of [ISIS].”

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A spokesman for Sotloff's family told CNN on Monday that the believed the TIME journalist was sold by the “so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support” for between $25,000 and $50,000. The spokesman also described the relationship between the White House and the Sotloff family as “very strained” and said the president could have done more to rescue the reporter.

“The administration could have done more, they could have helped us, they could have seen them through,” family spokesman Barak Barfi said.

Earnest said “the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House continue to be with the Sotloff family as they grieve for the loss of their son.”

“Everybody here is grieving alongside them,” he said.

Earnest also indicated that the administration did not intend to alter its strategy on supporting the Syrian opposition based on the accusations. Earnest called the support “a core component of the strategy here.” 

“The reason for that is simply that it is very dangerous for [ISIS] to be operating in a virtual safe haven anywhere in the world,” he said. “It's particularly dangerous for them to be operating in a safe haven in a region of the world as volatile as Syria and Iraq.”