Islamic State murder fifth Western hostage

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PRIME Minister David Cameron has condemned the killers of a US aid worker murdered by Islamic militant group IS as “depraved”, after a video of his beheading was released.

Mr Cameron described Peter Kassig as a “compassionate man” who had travelled to Syria to help those fleeing the conflict in the country.

A screengrab of Peter Kassig being held by an Islamic State militant. Picture: PA

A screengrab of Peter Kassig being held by an Islamic State militant. Picture: PA

His condemnation of the murder was echoed by leaders across the globe, including a statement from the White House which last night confirmed the death of Mr Kassig, saying he was killed “in an act of pure evil” by Islamic State militants.

“Today we offer our prayers and condolences to the parents and family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter,” Barack Obama said in a statement on Air Force One as he returned home from the G20 summit in Australia.

It is thought Mr Kassig’s killing was carried out by a man known as Jihadi John who speaks with a London accent and who is believed to be responsible for previous hostage murders, including that of Scot David Haines.

However, reports yesterday claimed that Jihadi John had been injured in a US-led air strike on an Iraqi town close to the Syrian border more than a week ago.

Peter Kassig. Picture: AP

Peter Kassig. Picture: AP

It is believed that he and IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi were rushed to hospital for treatment and then taken to underground medical facilities at a former Syrian army barracks in the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

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Mr Kassig, a former US soldier, was captured by IS fighters in Syria in October last year while providing medical training and humanitarian aid to victims of the conflict.

The 26-year-old was born Peter but changed his name to Abdul-Rahman following his conversion to Islam while in the hands of IS, also known as Isil, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Mr Cameron said: “These beheadings show once again what a depraved organisation this is.

“Like others who have been murdered in cold blood by Isil, Abdul-Rahman Kassig was a selfless humanitarian worker who had gone to the region to help care for those fleeing the Syrian conflict.

“This underlines the deplorable depths to which these terrorists are prepared to go.”

Pressure was yesterday mounting on western governments to tackle the IS threat as reports claimed that the group has seven times more militants than official estimates believe.

Mr Cameron added: “You should be in no doubt that I want Jihadi John to face justice for the appalling acts that have been carried out in Syria, but I wouldn’t make any comment on individual issues and strikes.”

The latest video is the fifth time this year that IS has published footage showing the murder of western hostages.

It purports to show extremists beheading a dozen Syrian soldiers and ends with the militant standing over a severed head he says belongs to Mr Kassig.

The video identifies the militants’ location as Dabiq, a town in northern Syria that the militant group uses as the title of its English-language propaganda magazine and where they believe an apocalyptic battle between Muslims and their enemies will take place.

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The footage, said to be the most gruesome released by the group, shows the beheadings of about a dozen men identified as Syrian military officers and pilots, all dressed in blue jumpsuits. The main militant in the video who speaks to the camera 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 IS in air strikes, supporting western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military.

Burhan Agha, a Syrian friend who worked with Mr Kassig in Lebanon and who moved to Switzerland seeking asylum, wept when recounting his friend’s generosity.

“If I could apologise to each American, one by one, I would, because Peter died in Syria, while he was helping the Syrian people,” Mr Agha 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.”

Mr Kassig’s parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, yesterday said: “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.”

They released a letter from him in October, which read: “Mentally 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.” Mr Kassig, from Indianapolis, Indiana, served in the US army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit, and was deployed to Iraq in 2007 – the reason, the militant says in the video, that he was killed.

After being medically discharged, Mr Kassig formed the aid organisation Special Emergency Response and Assistance, or SERA, in Turkey to aid Syrian refugees. He began delivering food and medical supplies to Syrian refugee camps in 2012 and provided trauma care to wounded Syrian civilians.

The exiled leader of Syria’s opposition National Coalition, Hadi al-Bahra, said in a statement that Mr Kassig would be remembered as a hero.

“Kassig paid the ultimate sacrifice trying to relieve the suffering of his fellow human beings far away from home. The thugs of Isis will pay the price for their evil crimes,” he said.

IS still holds British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria with James Foley in November 2012. Mr Foley was beheaded in August. Mr Cantlie has appeared in several videos delivering statements for the group, likely under duress.

The militant group also holds a 26-year-old American woman captured last year in Syria while working for aid groups. US officials have asked that the woman is not identified out of fears for her safety.

The fight against the militant group adds another layer to Syria’s complex civil war, now in its fourth year, which began as an uprising against president Bashar Assad. Activists say that the conflict has killed more than 200,000 people.

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