US president Barack Obama has said the beheading of Peter Kassig by the Islamic State group in Syria is “an act of pure evil”.
A video was released yesterday showing a masked militant standing over the severed head of a man it said was the former US Army Ranger-turned-aid worker, who was seized while delivering relief supplies in Syria last year.
Mr Obama confirmed Mr Kassig’s death after a US review of the video, which also showed the mass beheadings of a dozen Syrian soldiers.
The 26-year-old, who founded an aid group to help Syrians caught in their country’s brutal civil war, “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity”, Mr Obama said.
He denounced the extremist group, which he said “revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction”.
The slain hostage’s parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, said they were “heartbroken” by their son’s killing but “incredibly proud” of his humanitarian work.
They said their son “lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people and his desire to ease their suffering”. A vigil was held Indianapolis yesterday for Mr Kassig, which his parents attended.
The Islamic State group has now killed five Westerners it was holding. American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded, as were British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
Unlike previous videos of slain Western hostages, the footage released did not show the decapitation of Mr Kassig or the moments leading up to his death.
“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a US citizen ... who fought against the Muslims in Iraq,” said the black-clad militant, who spoke with a British accent that was distorted in the video, apparently to disguise his identity.
Previous videos also featured a militant with a British accent that the FBI says it has identified, though it has not named him publicly.
The footage identifies the militants’ location as Dabiq, a town in northern Syria that Islamic State uses as the title of its English-language propaganda magazine and where they believe an apocalyptic battle between Muslims and their enemies will occur.
The high-definition video also showed the beheadings of about a dozen men identified as Syrian military officers and pilots, all dressed in blue jumpsuits. The black-clad militant warns that US soldiers will meet a similar fate.
“We say to you, Obama: You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago,” the militant said. “Here you are: You have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies.”
A US-led coalition is targeting Islamic State in airstrikes, supporting Western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military.
Mr Kassig, who served in the US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit, deployed to Iraq in 2007. After being medically discharged, he returned to the Middle East in 2012 and formed a relief group, Special Emergency Response and Assistance, to aid Syrian refugees.
A certified emergency medic, Mr Kassig delivered food and medical supplies, and provided trauma care to wounded Syrians before being captured in eastern Syria on October 1 2013. Friends say he converted to Islam in captivity and took the first name Abdul-Rahman.
Mr Obama said he “was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed” by war. The president offered prayers and condolences to the Kassig family.
“We cannot begin to imagine their anguish at this painful time,” he said.
Burhan Agha, a Syrian who worked with Mr Kassig in Lebanon, wept when recounting his friend’s humanitarian work.
“If I could apologise to each American, one by one, I would, because Peter died in Syria, while he was helping the Syrian people,” he said.
“Those who killed him claimed to have done it in the name of Islam. I am a Muslim and am from Syria. ... (His killers) are not Muslims.”
Also unlike previous videos, the new footage did not show other Western captives or directly threaten to behead anyone else. It also had lingering close-ups on some militants’ exposed faces, a few of whom appeared to be foreigners.
The video appeared on websites used in the past by Islamic State, which now controls a third of Syria and Iraq.