Peter Edward Kassig, a heroic former U.S. Army Ranger who served his country in Iraq and then returned to the Middle East as an aid worker in Syria, is the latest American hostage beheaded by ISIS.
The terrorist group, under siege from an American-led campaign of airstrikes, released a video Sunday morning showing the severed head of Kassig, who went missing at a Syrian border checkpoint in 2013.
The 16-minute video showed the beheadings of 12 Syrian soldiers in addition to Kassig, a 26-year-old convert to Islam also known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
Here’s what we know so far:
1. The Video Doesn’t Actually Show Kassig’s Execution
According to BBC and the New York Times, the video released by ISIS is different from past videos in that it doesn’t actually show Kassig being executed, nor does it show Kassig on camera pleading with the Obama administration to reverse course on American military action against ISIS. (Watch CNN’s report on the video above.)
Instead, it shows Kassig’s executioner standing next to a blood-soaked, severed head and speaking into the camera at the end of a 16-minute video.
The black-hooded killer is shown conducting a mass beheading of captured Syrian soldiers, who are led out by the scruffs of their necks. Each fighter is shown grabbing a knife from a bowl. Then the victims are forced to kneel. They are beheaded at the same moment.
Much of it is taken up with a recent history lesson on Iraq and Syria as seen through the eyes of the jihadists. But the latter part shows a mass beheading of Syrian prisoners in revolting, lingering detail.
Unlike earlier videos, this one revels in gore. Amongst the boiler-suited captives murdered in cold blood is a man IS says is the former US soldier Peter Kassig, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman.
It’s not clear when the video was shot. The man speaking into the camera is thought to be the so-called Jihadi John.
2. Kassig, an Indiana Native & Ex-Army Ranger, Had Been Working as a Humanitarian Aid-Worker in the Area
Kassig is 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.
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:
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.
3. ISIS Threatened to Kill Kassig After Beheading Alan Henning
Kassig’s beheading is the fifth the terror group has carried out this year of a Western hostage and the third of an American.
After beheading Henning, the terror group released footage showing Kassig in custody and threatened to behead him as well if the coalition forces continued their air strikes against ISIS — something the American-lead coalition has done with some success, preventing the ISIS takeover of the key Syrian border town of Kobani.
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 has 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.
4. The U.S. Government Has Confirmed the Video’s Authenticity
The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi tweeted late Sunday morning that an American official had confirmed that the video showing Kassig’s corpse was authentic.
Earlier Sunday, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that U.S. intelligence agencies were working to determine the authenticity of the video and that, if authentic, American officials are “appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American aid worker.”
“We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” the statement continued. “We will provide more information when it is available.”
Read the full statement in this tweet from NPR:
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters National Security Advisor Susan Rice briefed President Obama on reports of Kassig’s execution aboard Air Force One.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also tweeted about the “cold-blooded murder” of Kassig.
5. Kassig’s Parents Said They Hope Their Son Is Remembered for the ‘Love He Shared’ & Work He Did
Ed and Paula Kassig, Kassig’s parents, released a video in early October pleading for ISIS to release their son. You can watch that video above.
The Kassigs said in a statement Sunday morning that they were aware of reports of their son’s death but had not received confirmation from the American government that the video purporting to show their son’s beheading was authentic.
Read the full statement in this tweet from the BBC.