ISIS claims fifth Western beheading victim, Indianapolis native Peter Kassig

Peter Kassig with a truck filled with supplies for Syrian refugees. (Undated photograph provided by the Kassig family)
Peter Kassig with a truck filled with supplies for Syrian refugees. (Undated photograph provided by the Kassig family)

Online Staff Report

A videotape released Sunday, Nov. 16, by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants confirmed the beheading of a fifth Western hostage — and the third American — aid worker Peter Kassig, 26.

ISIS militants had threatened to kill Kassig in retaliation for air strikes carried out by the United States in Iraq and Syria.

Kassig, an Indianapolis native and former Army Ranger, disappeared more than one year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria. He was delivering medical supplies at the time.

President Barack Obama said in a statement from aboard Air Force One that Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, added in a statement: “I am deeply saddened by the ruthless murder of Peter Kassig, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family during this terrible time. Kassig was a soldier who decided to return to the Middle East in order to help victims of war. That ISIS killed such a great example of American leadership further proves that ISIS is out to destroy everything we as Americans stand for. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and justice must, and will be served.”

Kinzinger is a U.S. Air Force veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and serves as a major in the Air National Guard (ANG). In January 2014, he called for air strikes against ISIS, and in September he traveled to the Middle East to meet with the rebel groups fighting ISIS and witnessed firsthand the destruction ISIS has caused.

France has identified one of its own as the executioner in the video that was released Nov. 16. A prosecutor in Paris has identified the executioner as 22-year-old Maxime Hauchard, a convert to Islam. French authorities have been tracking Hauchard for years. He recently posted pictures of himself in fatigues in Syria. He also gave an interview to a French television network in July and claimed part of the credit for ISIS’s capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Hauchard converted at 16 and has a felony conviction for driving without insurance. He attended an Islamic conference in Mauritania in 2012, but was disappointed because it wasn’t radical enough for him, according to reports. The video released Nov. 16 , also showed the beheadings of more than a dozen Syrian soldiers.

More than 1,600 French nationals are reportedly involved with ISIS, including 376 in the combat zone.

Footage in the video released Nov. 16 showed a black-robed executioner standing over the severed head of Kassig. Unlike earlier beheading videos, which were staged with multiple cameras from different angles, the video released Nov. 16 showed only the final scene of the execution.

The fighter with the British accent in the video stated: “This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country. Peter, who fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier under the American Army, doesn’t have much to say. His previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf. You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars.”

The first four beheadings were done in open air, and the films suggested executioners used multiple takes over an extended period of time to complete the beheadings.

Kassig’s cellmates included two American journalists — James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff — as well as two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning. The four were beheaded in roughly two-week periods beginning in August. Kassig was shown in the video released in October that captured the beheading of Henning.

In a letter to his parents smuggled out this past summer, Kassig wrote: “I am obviously pretty scared to die, but the hardest part is not knowing, wondering, hoping and wondering if I should even hope at all. Just know I’m with you. Every stream, every lake, every field and river. In the woods and in the hills, in all the places you showed me. I love you.”

Kassig had turned to humanitarian work following a tour in Iraq as an Army Ranger in 2007. He was certified as an emergency technician, and by 2012 had returned to the battlefield helping bandage the victims of Syria’s civil war who were flooding into Lebanon. He moved to Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, and founded an aid group. He used his own money to buy supplies, such as diapers, which he distributed to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

In summer 2013, Kassig moved to Gaziantep in southern Turkey, roughly an hour from the border. He then began making trips into Syria to offer medical care to the wounded.

Kassig disappeared Oct. 1, 2013, when the ambulance he and a colleague were driving was stopped at a checkpoint on the road to Deir al-Zour, Syria. He was transferred late last year to a prison beneath the basement of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo. He was then moved to a network of jails in Raqqa, the capital of the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate. Kassig was one of at least 23 Western hostages held by the group.

Posted Nov. 17, 2014

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