Islamic State militants released a video this morning claiming they have beheaded another U.S. hostage, 26-year-old aid worker Peter Kassig. The video warns that they will kill other U.S. citizens “on your streets.” Unlike the other videos which showed the actual beheading, this one shows a masked man standing with a blood-covered decapitated head, which he says belongs to Peter Edward Kassig. The video has appeared on Islamic State Twitter feeds and a jihadist website. The authenticity of the video has not been verified, but a spokeswoman for the National Security Council (NSC) says the U.S intelligence community is working on confirmation “as quickly as possible.”
This video differs from that of the four previous hostage beheadings, in that Kassig’s actual death is not shown. There is also no final message. However, the British-accented fighter who states that the head belongs to Kassig is the same one appearing in the previous Islamic State beheading videos, who the British press nicknamed Jihadi John.
Kassig is a former Army Ranger from Indiana who was working in Syria as a humanitarian aid worker. He was captured by ISIS in October 2013. According to his parents he changed his name to Abdul-Rahman Kassig after converting to Islam while in captivity. In a letter to his parents in June, Kassig said that he was “pretty scared to die.” He urged them to take comfort in knowing that he was providing humanitarian aid when he was captured.
Western leaders and officials have condemned the killing. NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that if the killing is confirmed “we are appalled” by another brutal murder of an innocent American aid worker.
In the video, the hooded killer says Kassig fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier in the American Army. He says that Obama’s claims to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago are false.
Kassig was based in Gaziantep, a city in southern turkey about one hour from the Syrian border. He ran a small aid group called Special Emergency Response and Assistance, which he founded in 2012. Once captured by the Islamic State, Kassig was initially held separately, but then was transferred late in 2013 to a prison in Aleppo and then to a jail network in Raqqa. One of at least 23 Western hostages held by ISIS, his cellmates included James Foley and Steven Sotloff, both beheaded late last summer.
Some Islamic State hostages released earlier this year after their families, governments or companies paid ransoms reported that the prisoners were repeatedly tortured, including waterboarding, thought to be meant to mimic the treatment of Muslim prisoners at CIA prisons. They were also repeatedly questioned, forced to give up the passwords to their Internet accounts so that the militants could look at emails, Facebook timelines and private chats for evidence of collaboration with foreign governments.
The just-released footage showing what is purported to be Kassig’s severed head comes at the end of a 16-minute video that traces the history of the Islamic State, beginning with its origins as a unit in Iraq under the control of Osama bin Laden, to its modern-day position in the regions of Iraq and Syria. Then a mass beheading of at least 14 Syrian soldiers is shown. After killing his victim the man known as Jihadi John looks up and stares directly into the camera.
By Beth A. Balen