World

Islamic State beheads British hostage; captured American next?

The Islamic State posted a video on Friday showing the beheading of a British aid worker in retaliation for Britain’s decision to join the U.S.-backed air campaign against the Islamist extremist group in Iraq.

Alan Henning, 47, a former taxi driver and father of two from the town of Eccles, would be the fourth Westerner executed by the al Qaida spinoff since August.

Henning’s executioner appeared to be the same black-clad militant, believed to be a British Muslim, who murdered American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines in previous videos.

At the end of the video, he threatened to kill a man identified as Peter Edward Kassig, an aid worker from Indiana whose captivity had not been publicized previously.

A friend, who asked not to be further identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed that the man in the video was Kassig, a former U.S. soldier who established a small humanitarian aid operation in Turkey for Syrian refugees.

The video of Henning’s execution was posted three days after Henning’s wife, Barbara, issued her latest plea for the release of her husband, who was captured in December within minutes of crossing from Turkey into al Dana, Syria, as he drove in a humanitarian aid convoy organized by British Muslims.

Before leaving on the trip, Henning told the BBC in an interview that he’d been to a refugee camp on one of three previous visits to Syria and felt compelled to return.

The Islamic State video, titled “Another Message to America and Its Allies,” opened with a recording of a British television news report on the British Parliament’s Sept. 26 approval of a request by Prime Minister David Cameron to join the U.S.-led coalition staging airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria. The Parliament restricted British participation to airstrikes in Iraq.

Henning then recited a brief statement blaming his death on the British Parliament’s vote: “I am Alan Henning. Because of our Parliament’s decision to attack the Islamic State, I as a member of the British public will now pay the price for that decision.”

His executioner then spoke: “The blood of David Haines was on your hands, Cameron. Alan Henning will also be slaughtered. His blood is on the hands of the British Parliament.”

The video then showed the killer standing behind the kneeling man, pulling his chin up and beginning to saw his neck with the knife. The clip went dark and then showed the dead man’s corpse, his bloodied head sitting on its back and his hands secured by handcuffs.

The final scene showed the executioner holding the collar of a kneeling man identified as Kassig and threatening to kill him next.

“Obama, you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham which keeps on striking our people. So it’s only right that we continue to strike the necks of your people,” said the killer.

According Kassig’s friend, Kassig traveled to Lebanon to study and ended up volunteering for humanitarian work with Syrian refugees using the skills he learned as a medic with the U.S. Army, with which he served in Iraq in 2007.

He came to the attention of CNN, which did a report on him, triggering donations that Kassig used to relocate to Gaz, a town in Turkey, where he established his humanitarian organization.

Using a network of Syrian associates, Kassig organized deliveries of medical equipment and other assistance to the Syrian city of Deir el Zour. He was captured Oct. 1, 2013, while escorting an aid convoy inside Syria.

While the video was similar to those of previous executions, it was far shorter, just over a minute, and less sophisticated – only one camera appears to have been used, for example, while previous executions had used at least two. The location for the execution appears to be the same rocky terrain as in previous videos, but the camera framing is far tighter, providing no wide view of the location, perhaps an indication that the execution crew was less comfortable being exposed to U.S. surveillance aircraft.

Email: jlanday@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @JonathanLanday.

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