A desperate two-month campaign by the parents of American hostage Peter Kassig failed after a video showing his beheading was released by Islamic State (Isis) militants.
A statement from US president Barack Obama on Sunday night confirmed that Kassig had been killed after Isis released the video showing the black-clad British executioner thought to have murdered four other western hostages standing over a severed head. Obama offered prayers and condolences to Kassigâ€™s family and said their son â€œwas taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.â€
The Isis video was uploaded after an impassioned campaign by the 26-year-oldâ€™s parents for Isis to spare their son, who recently became known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig after he converted to Islam. The family did not immediately acknowledge Kassigâ€™s death. Instead they urged that the 16-minute video should not be disseminated to deny his captors â€œa chance to further their causeâ€. Friends of Kassig said they had little doubt he had been killed.
The video was strikingly different to the four others uploaded to the internet since mid-August, which depicted the killings of US reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
A body is not shown, and nor was Kassig filmed making a final statement. Instead, his apparent death is revealed at the end of a potted history of the groupâ€™s evolution over the past decade and the grisly, unedited slaughter of up to 18 captured Syrian soldiers and airmen said to be near the north-east Syrian town of Dabiq.
The hooded man with the east London accent known as â€œJihadi Johnâ€ was again centre stage, narrating a warning to the British prime minister, David Cameron and US president Barack Obama after sawing off the head of a captured Syrian.
â€œTo Obama, the dog of Rome, today we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar [al Assad] and tomorrow weâ€™ll be slaughtering your soldiers,â€ he says. â€œWith Allahâ€™s permission we will break this final and last crusade and the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, begin to slaughter your people on your streets.â€ Unlike the killings of other western hostages, the camera does not pan away, as the killer moves a knife over his victimâ€™s throat. Instead it shows him fixing a defiant stare.
Alongside him, 17 men in military fatigues, their faces showing, follow the Britonâ€™s lead. British intelligence officials have known for at least a month the identity of the left-handed masked killer. The officials have focused their attention on former rapper Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, 23, who is known to have travelled to Syria to join Isis.
In the Raqqa region where the executioner is believed to be based, he is known by the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Britani.
The video is shot near pasture land and a hamlet, which is identified as Dabiq â€“ a small town near the Turkish border where Isis fighters believe a pre-apocalyptic showdown will take place.
In recent weeks, the threat to Kassigâ€™s life had drawn condemnation from jihadi leaders in Syria and Jordan who are not aligned to Isis. A senior member of the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra tweeted this month that Kassig had treated him for a battle wound and said there was no justification under Islam to kill him.
After being deployed in Iraq as a US army ranger, Kassig set up a medical charity to run aid to Syrian refugees in 2007.
He moved to Beirut from where he made regular trips to Syria via Turkey. On 1 October last year he was captured near the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour and then held with a group of western hostages that at one point numbered at least 23.
At some point during his time in the region he converted to Islam and adopted the name Abdul Rahman. His parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, repeatedly used his new name in their pleas to his captors.
Kassigâ€™s family released a letter from him in October, which read in part: â€œMentally I am pretty sure this is the hardest thing a man can go through, the stress and fear are incredible but I am coping as best I can. I am not alone.â€
Ed and Paula Kassig said yesterday: â€œWe are heartbroken to learn that our son, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, has lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people and his desire to ease their suffering. Our heart also goes out to the families of the Syrians who lost their lives, along with our son.
â€œFed by a strong desire to use his life to save the lives of others, Abdul-Rahman was drawn to the camps that are filled with displaced families and to understaffed hospitals inside Syria. We know he found his home amongst the Syrian people, and he hurt when they were hurting.
â€œAs he wrote in March 2012, in a letter announcing he was taking a leave of absence from Butler University to serve the Syrian people: â€˜Here, in this land, I have found my calling â€¦ I do not know much. Every day that I am here I have more questions and less answers, but what I do know is that I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand. To make a difference.â€™
â€œWe are incredibly proud of our son for living his life according to his humanitarian calling. We will work every day to keep his legacy alive as best we can.
â€œWe remain heartbroken, also, for the families of the other captives who did not make it home safely. The families of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, and Alan Henning remain in our daily thoughts and prayers, and we pray for the safe return of all remaining captives held by all sides of the Syrian civil war.
â€œWe remain eternally grateful for the many, many words of support and prayers from all over the world on our sonâ€™s behalf. We ask people to continue to pray for the safe return of all captives being held unjustly and all people being oppressed around the world, and especially for the people of Syria, a land our son loved.â€
Earlier the family had asked â€œthat the news media avoid playing into the hostage-takersâ€™ hands and refrain from publishing or broadcasting photographs or video distributed by the hostage-takers. We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family, not in the manner the hostage-takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause.â€
The family had been unable to raise a ransom demanded by Isis and would have faced stern opposition from the US government even if they had. Washington, like the UK, sticks strictly to a policy of not paying ransoms, in the hope that it will deter kidnappers from seizing their citizens in the future.
Without a ransom though, the Kassigs had next to nothing to offer Isis, which had shown utter inflexibility in negotiations carried out via email. European governments and private donors paid ransoms for at least six of their citizens this year.
In a statement, the National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, said: â€œWe are aware of a video that claims to show the murder of US citizen Peter Kassig by [Isis]. The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity.If confirmed, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American aid worker and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available.â€ – The Guardian