ISIS released a video Friday purporting to show the beheading of British hostage Alan Henning and claiming that American Muslim convert Peter Edward Kassig is in custody and will be the next Westerner to be executed. Kassig is 26 years old.
Upon learning of his appearance in the video, Kassig’s family released this statement:
The Kassig family extends our concern for the family of Alan Henning. We have read about his work and his generous character with great respect and admiration. We ask everyone around the world to pray for the Henning family, for our son, and for the release of all innocent people being held hostage in the Middle East and around the globe.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He’s From Indiana & Attended Butler University
He’s a native of Indianapolis, and his hometown church set up a donation fund for his charity in 2010.
After his deployment in Iraq in 2007, he attended Butler University, majoring in Political Science. According to WISH, he was a student at Butler from 2010-12. WISH reports that he changed his first name to Abdul Rahman after becoming a Muslim while in captivity.
Kassig also spent time at Hanover College, according to the Madison Courier. According to the article in Time, Kassig worked as an EMT in Tripoli after graduating. In the same article Kassig explains:
I worked three to four days a week at a hospital in Tripoli for about three months (June – August 2012) and then moved on to auxiliary support for a free clinic that was established a few miles away after the amount of wounded being transported to that particular region decreased to the point where my services were no longer needed there.
2. He’s Been Working as a Humanitarian Aid-Worker in the Area
According to a TIME article from January 2013, Kassig was running an NGO out of Beirut, Lebanon, after returning there (originally on spring break from Butler). Called SERA, it stands for Special Emergency Response and Assistance, and delivers food and aid to those in Syrian refugee camps.
He said of SERA:
This work is important for the message that it sends to people back home, that one of the best aspects of the American way of life is our ability to come together in the face of adversity and to stand beside those who might need a helping hand. In five years, if I can look back on all of this and say that our organization is able to truly help people, that I was able so share a little bit of hope and that I never stopped learning then I will know this all stood for something.
When asked in 2013 about where he would like to be in five years, he replied:
That is a good question. I believe that if you are passionate about something and you put the necessary effort into making it work (such as SERA) that it is ultimately up to you how long you can keep it viable. The work speaks for itself to some extent I think. I certainly plan on continuing to try and serve those who are in need for as long as I live.
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. In five years, I certainly hope to have seen SERA grow into an international relief organization capable of helping hundreds of thousands of people around the world. I would also like to be able to say that I was able to give something back to everyone who helped along the way.
His charitable efforts even caught the attention of Megadeath’s Dave Mustaine:
3. Kassig Joined the U.S. Army Rangers in 2006
Kassig is an Army Ranger who deployed to Iraq in 2007. He joined the Army Rangers in 2006, and was honorably discharged for medical reasons after a brief tour. In an interview with Syria Deeply, Kassig said that he rejected the chance to train rebels in military tactics:
Sometimes rebels want to know if I will help train people or if I will join the fight. I always tell them no. It is of course not that I do not feel terrible for the civilians that are suffering in Syria, but… for an American young man in my position that would be foolish, and regarded as such by pretty much everyone, including the opposition.
I can either be in a position to deliver tens of thousands of dollars of antibiotics for women and children, or I can be another young man with a gun.
4. ISIS Claims to Have Executed Alan Henning
The terror group, the target of a bombing campaign by the United States and a collection of allies, released a Youtube video Friday purporting to show the execution of Henning.
ISIS had threatened to execute Henning in a video purporting to show the execution of another British hostage, David Haines, last month.
Henning was a 47-year-old former taxi driver and aid worker from Greater Manchester who was captured by militants last December while delivering aid in Syria.
His wife had made repeated calls for him to be released, and appealed to his captors to spare his life.
5. Henning Is the 4th Westerner the Terror Group Claims to Have Killed
ISIS has executed Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, in addition to Haines and Henning. Both Foley and Sotloff were American journalists, while Haines and Henning were both aid workers from the UK.
The video of Foley’s purported execution was released in August 2014, with Sotloff’s following in September. A video claiming to show Haines’ execution was also released in September, in which Henning’s life was threatened.
ISIS have also threatened the lives of two others they are holding hostage, British journalist John Cantlie who was kidnapped with James Foley in 2012, and an unnamed 26-year-old female American, who was kidnapped while doing humanitarian work in Syria.