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World

American Kassig Is 5th Westerner ISIS Claims To Have Beheaded

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Another American hostage has been beheaded by the so-called Islamic State. Incidents like these are no longer a surprise sadly, but that does not diminish the horror. The victim this time was an aide worker in Syria named Peter Kassig, lately known as Abdul Rahman after he converted to Islam while in captivity. NPR's Alice Fordham has been following this story from Baghdad. She's on the line. Alice, good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So tell us about this young man, and tell us how he ended up in Syria.

FORDHAM: Well, when he died, he was just 26, but he'd done a lot in his life. After graduating high school in Indianapolis, he was in the Army, and then he served briefly in Iraq. Then later he went to college, but after a trip back to the Middle East, he decided to quit school and use his training as an emergency medic to help Syrians. He wrote a letter to friends at that time that said he'd seen so much suffering that he couldn't turn his back. And this was in Lebanon, but later he set up an organization that took medical kit and trainers and food into rebel-held areas of Syria.

GREENE: All right. So he's in his 20s, and he begins this aid organization. He's doing this work and then converts to Islam, and that, as we mentioned, was while he was in captivity, right?

FORDHAM: Right. Well, he was captured exactly about a year ago while heading a convoy into a highly contested part of Syria, Dier ez-Zor. And from other hostages' accounts and from a letter he sent home, we believe that he converted and he changed his name while he was captive. But his Syrian friends say that he - for a long time, he'd been interested in Islam. He would fast with them during Ramadan. So it was something that he had been drawn to for a while.

GREENE: The video of this beheading, you know, we've seen other videos like this before, as we mentioned, sadly. Does this one stand out in some way?

FORDHAM: Yes. The four Western hostages who have been beheaded on video up till now had a kind of a pattern to them. We would see the hostage in an orange suit, kneeling. He would give a speech while a masked man stood above him, and then the beheading would begin. This video is longer. There are multiple mass killings shown, including a lingering sequence where men identified as Syrian soldiers are beheaded and then clips of other mass executions of handcuffed men. There are taunts to Barack Obama, which seem to refer to the upcoming deployment of more soldiers to Iraq. And we don't see the beheading of Kassig. We see his severed head.

GREENE: Well, so if we're seeing differences in this video, is there anything we can learn from that?

FORDHAM: Well, I think it's speculation to analyze exactly what this could mean at this point. We think that hundreds of the Islamic State fighters have been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes. So have they changed this format, this location, because they're under pressure, because they don't have any more hostages and they wanted to make a big impact, because they want to project strength? Do we not see the beheading of Kassig because he refused to cooperate with them? It could be any of these things, but we're not sure exactly at the moment.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Alice Fordham joining us from Baghdad to talk about the latest beheading of an American hostage by the group ISIS. Alice, thanks very much.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.