BEIRUT // A video released on Sunday by the militant group ISIL purports to show extremists beheading a dozen Syrian soldiers and ends with a militant claiming to have killed US aid worker Peter Kassig, the latest slaughter proudly broadcast by the group on the internet.
The video ends with the militant standing over a severed head he says belongs to Kassig. US officials said they were working to determine the video’s authenticity.
The footage appeared on websites used in the past by ISIL, which now controls a third of Syria and Iraq, but it could not be independently verified.
The release of the video coincided with multiple bombings in Baghdad, including one near the international airport, and heavy fighting and airstrikes in the Syrian town of Kobani, where anti-ISIL forces are increasingly going on the offensive.
The video identifies the militants’ location as Dabiq, a town in northern Syria that the militant group uses as the title of its English-language propaganda magazine and where they believe an apocalyptic battle between Muslims and their enemies will occur.
The high-definition video shows the beheadings of about a dozen men identified as Syrian military officers and pilots, all dressed in blue jumpsuits. The main militant in the video who speaks to the camera has a British accent and warns that US soldiers will meet a similar fate.
“We say to you, Obama: ... You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago,” the militant said. “Here you are: You have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies.” A US-led coalition is targeting ISIL in airstrikes, supporting western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military.
The militant’s voice is distorted in the video. Previous videos featured a militant with a British accent that the FBI says it has identified, though it hasn’t named him publicly.
Later, the militant claims Kassig, 26, was killed because he “fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier.” Kassig, from Indianapolis, Indiana, served in the US army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit, and deployed to Iraq in 2007.
After being medically discharged, Kassig formed the aid organisation Special Emergency Response and Assistance, or Sera, in Turkey to aid Syrian refugees. He delivered food and medical supplies and provided trauma care to wounded Syrian civilians before being captured in eastern Syria last year. Friends say he converted to Islam in captivity and took the first name Abdul-Rahman.
Previous videos have shown the beheading of two American journalists and two British aid workers. The latest video did not show the person identified as Kassig being beheaded. Unlike previous videos, it did not show other western captives or directly threaten to behead anyone else. It also had lingering close-ups on some miltiants’ exposed faces, with a few appearing to be foreigners.
ISIL holds British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in several videos delivering statements for the group, likely under duress. They also hold a 26-year-old American woman captured last year in Syria while working for aid groups. US officials have asked that the woman not be identified out of fears for her safety.
ISIL has beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives – mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers – during its sweep across the two countries, and has celebrated its mass killings in extremely graphic videos.
The group has declared a self-styled Islamic caliphate in the areas under its control, which it governs according to its violent interpretation of Shariah.
ISIL has its roots in Al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate but was expelled from the global terror network over its brutal tactics and refusal to obey orders to confine its activities to Iraq. It became even more extreme amid the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria and grew strong enough to launch a lightning offensive across Iraq.
Syria’s war began as an uprising against President Bashar Assad. Activists say that conflict has killed more than 200,000 people.
* Associated Press