Beirut, By Sara Hussein (AFP)
US President Barack Obama has ordered a review of how Washington can secure the release of American hostages, as intelligence agencies investigated the involvement of Western jihadists in the beheading of aid worker Peter Kassig.
The announcement of the review came just 24 hours after the release of a video by the Islamic State claiming the beheading of Kassig.
He was the third American to be killed by Islamic State, following the deaths of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
On Monday, the parents of the 26-year-old Kassig paid tribute to their son and said they would try to “forgive” the jihadists.
In the letter from Obama, dated last Tuesday, Christine Wormuth, the US undersecretary of defense for policy, says the review will focus “on examining family engagement, intelligence collection and diplomatic engagement policies”.
“The president recently directed a comprehensive review of the US government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases,” Christine Wormuth said in the note posted on The Daily Beast news site.
The move, Wormuth said, comes “as a result of the increased frequency of hostage-taking of Americans overseas, and the recognition of the dynamic threat posed by specific terrorist groups”.
– ‘Our hearts are battered’ –
The killing of Kassig and the simultaneous beheadings of at least 18 Syrian military personnel in the video sparked global horror, with Obama calling it “an act of pure evil”.
Kassig’s parents on Monday called for healing and prayer as they mourned their loss.
“Please allow our small family the time and privacy to mourn, cry and — yes — forgive and begin to heal,” Peter’s father Ed said in an emotional address outside his church.
“Please pray for Abdul-Rahman, or Pete if that’s how you knew him, at sunset this evening. Pray also for all people in Syria, in Iraq and around the world that are held against their will.”
Peter’s mother Paula said while their world had been torn apart by the death of their son, they would focus on healing.
“Rather than letting the darkness overwhelm him he has chosen to believe in the good, in himself and in others… One person makes a difference,” she said.
“Our hearts are battered. But they will mend. The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end.”
In Kassig’s home state of Indiana, Governor Mike Pence called the killing “an unspeakable act of barbarism”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also used the word “barbarism” to describe IS on Monday, insisting the world would not be intimidated in the battle against it.
It was the latest in a series of atrocities by IS, a Sunni Muslim extremist group that has seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The video showed the Syrian men kneeling on the ground each before a separate executioner, whose faces were uncovered.
Among the militants shown beheading the Syrian servicemen were some known foreign fighters, including at least one Frenchman and possibly a Briton, an Australian and a Dane.
French authorities identified one of the executioners as Maxime Hauchard, a 22-year-old from a small village in northern France who left for Syria in August last year.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said “circumstantial evidence confirms the involvement of a Frenchman in the decapitation of Syrian prisoners shown in an IS video released on Sunday.”
It added it was “possible” a second Frenchmen appeared in the video but said it was yet to confirm the individual’s identity.
– Lured by online videos –
Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to join IS in Iraq and Syria, and experts say they are often among the most violent and brutal of the jihadists.
A British-accented jihadist has been at the centre of previous IS beheading videos and appeared again in Sunday’s recording claiming Kassig’s killing.
The father of another British jihadist fighting with IS initially told the media he had also seen his son in the video, but later said he was mistaken.
Kassig, who took the name Abdul-Rahman after converting to Islam, was captured last year and became the fifth Western hostage beheaded by IS after the two US reporters and two British aid workers.
In the undated video released on Sunday, the jihadist stands above a severed head he claims is Kassig’s and challenges Obama to send more troops to the region to confront IS.
“Here we are burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” the militant says, referring to a northern Syrian town.
Washington is preparing to double its military personnel in Iraq to up to 3,100 as part of the international campaign it is leading against the jihadists.
Kassig, an Iraq war veteran, had risked his life to provide medical treatment and relief supplies to those suffering from Syria’s civil war.
Sunday’s video was substantially different from previous IS recordings of beheadings.
Kassig was not shown alive in the footage, and no direct threats were made against other Western hostages.
The video came as IS suffered battleground setbacks in Iraq supported by US-led air strikes, with government forces Saturday breaking the jihadists’ months-long siege of the country’s largest oil refinery.
Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday it had documented the execution of 1,429 people in Syria by IS in the five months since it declared the establishment of a “caliphate” in areas under its control.