The Islamic State released a video Sunday showing a black-clad executioner standing over the severed head of a man it identified as the American aid worker Peter Kassig. Kassig, a former Army Ranger, disappeared over a year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria while delivering medical supplies.
After the video was released and intelligence analysts conducted an initial assessment, one senior American official said Sunday that the government was increasingly convinced that the video was authentic and that Kassig was dead.
The footage is significantly different from the execution videos of four other Western hostages, whose televised deaths were carefully choreographed.
Those videos were shot with several cameras from different vantage points to give the appearance of a professional production. But the footage of Kassig’s death is shot with a single camera and appears amateurish, with the harsh lighting obscuring the executioner’s visage.
While in the earlier videos the hostages are seen kneeling in orange jumpsuits and are forced to make speeches before the executioner lifts the knife to their throats, in the one released Sunday, the moments leading up to Kassig’s death are not shown. The change in format — combined with the lower production quality of the clip — may suggest that the Islamic State is on the run and unable to carry out the same cinematic production as before.
The camera pans across the boots of the hooded killer. Between his feet, a decapitated head is seen, blood smearing the cheek.
“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a US 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,” says the fighter who speaks with a British accent, appeared in the previous beheading videos and has been nicknamed Jihadi John by the British news media.
“You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars,” the fighter adds.
Earlier Sunday, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said the United States intelligence community was aware of the video and was “working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity.”
“If confirmed, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American aid worker, and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” the spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, said in a statement.
– Rukmini Callimachi