The White House confirmed late Friday that the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State is holding former US Army Ranger Peter Kassig hostage.
The group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, threatened Kassig at the end of a video purporting to show the execution of British aid worker Alan Henning.
“We can confirm that U.S. citizen Peter Kassig is being held by ISIL,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the White House’s national security council.
“At this point we have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video released earlier today. We will continue to use every tool at our disposal — military, diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence — to try to bring Peter home to his family.”
Since August, ISIS has released videos showing the beheadings of two American journalists — Steven Sotloff and James Foley — helping prompt the US to escalate a military campaign as President Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group.
Henning, meanwhile, was the second British hostage killed by ISIS over the past three weeks. Last month, the group released a video showing the beheading of British citizen David Haines.
“The United States strongly condemns the brutal murder of United Kingdom citizen Alan Henning by the terrorist group ISIL,” Obama said in a statement Friday.
“Mr. Henning worked to help improve the lives of the Syrian people and his death is a great loss for them, for his family and the people of the United Kingdom. Standing together with our UK friends and allies, we will work to bring the perpetrators of Alan’s murder — as well as the murders of Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines — to justice.”
Obama’s statement did not mention the group’s threat of Kassig, a 26-year-old native of Indiana. He founded a group called Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA), according to Time, which was providing humanitarian and medical aid to Syrian refugees from the war-torn country.
Kassig joined the US Army in 2006 and served among the elite 75th Ranger regiment. He was medically discharged as a private first class after a deployment to Iraq in 2007. By 2010, he had become a certified emergency medical technician, telling CNN he wanted to do something more than study political science and train for long-distance races.
CNN interviewed Kassig in 2012, when he spoke of the chain of events that led him to found SERA. Between 2010-12, he got married and then divorced, a series he said left him feeling like he “needed a game changer.”
He flew to Beirut during one spring break and quickly became aware of the deteriorating situation in Syria. Upon leaving, he knew what he wanted to do.
“The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes,” Kassig told CNN.
SERA was based in Gaziantep, Turkey, and its mission statement said it aimed to deliver food, medical, and humanitarian assistance to refugees on both sides of Syria’s border with Turkey. According to a statement from Kassig’s family, he was captured on Oct. 1, 2013, while he was en route to Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.
Ed and Paula Kassig, Peter’s parents, released a video message Saturday urging his captors to “show mercy” and release him. They also revealed Peter converted to Islam during his captivity and has referred to himself in messages as Abdul-Rahman.
“We’ve asked our government to change its actions,” Ed Kassig says in the video. “But like our son, we have no more control over the US government than you have over the breaking of dawn.”
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