Islamic State group beheads former Army Ranger Peter Kassig
BEIRUT — Islamic State militants have beheaded Peter Kassig, a U.S. aid worker and ex-Army Ranger who was captured last year in Syria while on a private humanitarian mission, the White House confirmed Sunday.
U.S. officials authenticated a 16-minute video, released on various social networks by the militant group earlier in the day, which also shows the mass beheading of men said to be Syrian government soldiers.
“Today we offer our prayers and condolences to the parents and family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter,” President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House, using the name Kassig adopted after converting to Islam. “We cannot begin to imagine their anguish at this painful time.”
The video shows a black-clad, masked militant with what appears to be a British accent saying that Kassig had been beheaded.
Ed and Paula Kassig, released a statement in which they asked that the news media refrain from distributing video or photographs from their son’s captors to “avoid playing into the hostage-takers’ hands.”
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said President Barack Obama was briefed about the video by national security adviser Susan Rice during a flight to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. He was returning from Australia, where he had been attending the Group of 20 summit.
Kassig is the third U.S. citizen known to have been executed by Islamic State, an al-Qaida offshoot that controls much of Syria and neighboring Iraq. The group arose amid during the Syrian conflict, now in its fourth year.
Islamic State has previously released videos showing the beheading of two U.S. journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The militants have also beheaded two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning.
All were captured in rebel-held territory in northern and eastern Syria. Islamic State says the killings are revenge for the U.S.-led air campaign against the militant group in Syria and Iraq.
In his statement, Obama said Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity. Like Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff before him, his life and deeds stand in stark contrast to everything that ISIL represents.” ISIL is one of the acronyms by which Islamic State has been known.
“While ISIL revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction, Abdul-Rahman was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed by the Syrian conflict,” Obama said. “ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own. Today we grieve together, yet we also recall that the indomitable spirit of goodness and perseverance that burned so brightly in Abdul-Rahman Kassig, and which binds humanity together, ultimately is the light that will prevail over the darkness of ISIL.”
Matt Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the executioner’s British accent in the latest video made it appear that he was the same person who beheaded the other hostages.
Olsen, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said U.S. government officials were still trying to identify the killer. It’s not yet clear when the video was made, he said.
Unlike videos released after the previous decapitations of Western hostages, Kassig does not appear alive or speak in the video. The other hostages, clearly under duress, made statements critical of their governments.
“It’s possible, of course, that he wouldn’t cooperate and speak on the video,” Olsen said of Kassig.
Asked about broad threats to Americans issued in the video, Olsen said the Islamic State militants have the capacity to carry out small-scale attacks, but not on a scale that suggests an imminent danger to Americans outside the war zone.
But he said the militants’ use of propaganda, including the latest video, could inspire people who are “mentally ill or deranged” to carry out attacks.
Kassig, 26, was captured in October 2013 while on a charity mission to Syria.
While in custody, his family said, Kassig converted to Islam and changed his name.
Kassig, who served in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2007, traveled to Lebanon while on spring break from college in 2012 and began working with Palestinian refugees and victims of the Syrian war. He later founded an aid organization, Special Emergency Response and Assistance, largely funded with his savings and donations from relatives and others in the United States.
The group delivered medical supplies, food and other aid to rebel-held areas of Syria, and also provided trauma training to medics treating victims of the Syrian conflict. Kassig, a trained emergency medical technician, was deeply devoted to the aid mission, friends and family said.
Before turning to humanitarian assistance, Kassig spent much of his late teens and 20s “searching for his place in the world,” his family said in a statement last month. “He felt called to be a peacemaker” after his time in the military, his family said.
“The truth is sometimes I really think I would like to do something else, but at the end of the day, this work is really the only thing that I have found that gives my life both meaning and direction,” Kassig told Time magazine in early 2013 before being taken prisoner.
According to colleagues, Kassig made several trips into Syria on aid missions before he was detained on Oct. 1, 2013, near the eastern Syrian city of Dair Elzur, a militant stronghold. He was fully aware of the risks, friends said, but felt he had to travel to areas where need was greatest.
A news blackout surrounded Kassig’s detention for a year until a video surfaced last month showing a masked militant threatening a man in an orange jumpsuit identified as Kassig.
Since then, friends and family members have been publicly calling on Islamic State to release Kassig, citing his humanitarian efforts with Syrians and his conversion to Islam.
Kassig served 15 months in the U.S. Army, including a deployment in Iraq from April to July 2007, before receiving a medical discharge as a private first class in September 2007, according to Pentagon records.
Last month, as part of the public campaign urging Kassig’s freedom, his family released portions of a letter that Kassig had penned to his parents while in captivity.
“If I do die, I figure that at least you and I can seek refuge and comfort in knowing that I went out as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need,” Kassig wrote in the letter, which was brought out of Syria by a released hostage. “Just know I’m with you.”
Special correspondent Nabih Bulos in Beirut and Katherine Skiba in the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau contributed to this report.
©2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services