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Mother pleas for life of son held in Syria

– The mother of a hostage American journalist pleaded for his release Wednesday in a video directed at the Islamic State group, while new images emerged of mass killings, including masked militants shooting kneeling men after the capture of a strategic air base in Syria.

Shirley Sotloff’s plea came as a U.N. commission accused the group, which dominates a broad swath of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, of committing crimes against humanity and President Barack Obama weighs options for targeting the extremists’ stronghold in Syria.

The Islamic State militants have threatened to kill 31-year-old Steven Sotloff unless the U.S. halts its airstrikes against it.

Sotloff, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, had last been seen in Syria in August 2013 until he appeared in a video released online last week by the Islamic State group showing the beheading of fellow American journalist, James Foley.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against the backdrop of an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the group in Iraq.

Addressing the leader of the Islamic State group by name, Shirley Sotloff said her son was “an innocent journalist” who shouldn’t pay for U.S. government actions in the Middle East over which he has no control.

Appealing directly to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who describes himself as a caliph, or Islamic leader intending to lead the Muslim world, she implored him to show mercy and follow the example of the prophet Muhammad.

“You, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you, please, to release my child. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life,” Shirley Sotloff said on the video, which was first aired on the Al-Arabiya television network.

Meanwhile, new images emerged of the extremists’ bloody takeover of an air base in northeastern Syria.

In one photo posted on the militant group’s website, masked gunmen were seen shooting seven men kneeling on the ground, some dressed in what appeared to be Syrian military uniforms, after the seizure of the Tabqa air base in the province of Raqqa this week.

The photos underscored how the group uses violence, and images of violence to terrorize its opponents, as it sweeps further into Syria and Iraq, where it has imposed an Islamic state, or caliphate, governed by its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

The images emerged as a U.N. commission accused the group of committing crimes against humanity in Syria. The U.N. had earlier accused the group of similar crimes in Iraq.

“This is a continuation – and a geographic expansion – of the widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population” by the Islamic State group, said the four-member commission chaired by Brazilian diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

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