Islamic State militants released a chilling videotape on Sunday showing they had beheaded a fifth Western hostage, an American aid worker the group had threatened to kill in retaliation for airstrikes carried out by the United States in Iraq and Syria.
President Obama on Sunday confirmed the death of the aid worker, Peter Kassig, a former Army Ranger who disappeared more than a year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria while delivering medical supplies.
Mr. Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group,” Mr. Obama said in a statement from aboard Air Force One that was read to the news media in Washington.
In recent days, American intelligence agencies received strong indications that the Islamic State had killed Mr. Kassig, the group’s third American victim. The president’s announcement was the first official confirmation of his death.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig with a truck filled with supplies for Syrian refugees in an undated photograph provided by the Kassig family.American Held by ISIS Says He Is ‘Pretty Scared to Die’OCT. 6, 2014
The father of Jejoen Bontinck, a young Belgian who spent three weeks in the same cell as James Foley and other hostages, showed a picture of the prison where they were held.ISIS Hostages Endured Torture and Dashed Hopes, Freed Cellmates SayOCT. 25, 2014
“Today we offer our prayers and condolences to the parents and family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter,” Mr. Obama’s statement said. The president used the Muslim name that Mr. Kassig adopted after his capture, making the point that the Islamic State had killed a fellow Muslim. He acknowledged the “anguish at this painful time” felt by Mr. Kassig’s family.
The footage in the video released Sunday was of poorer quality than some of the group’s previous, slickly produced execution videos.
The video shows a black-robed executioner standing over the severed head of Mr. Kassig. Though the end result of the footage was grimly familiar, it was strikingly different from the executions of four other Western hostages, whose recorded deaths were carefully choreographed.
In the clip released early Sunday, the Islamic State displays the head of Mr. Kassig, 26, at the feet of a man with a British accent who appeared in the previous beheading videos and has been nicknamed Jihadi John by the British news media. Unlike the earlier videos, which were staged with multiple cameras from different vantage points, and which show the hostages kneeling, then uttering their last words, the footage of Mr. Kassig’s death is curtailed — showing only the final scene.
“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. 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,” the fighter with a British accent says in the video. “You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars.”
Analysts said that the change in the videos suggested that something may have gone wrong as the militants, who have been under sustained attack from a United States-led military coalition and have faced a series of setbacks in recent weeks, carried out the killing.
“The most obvious difference is in the beheading itself — the previous videos all showed the beheading on camera,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in Washington, and a former director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization. “This one just shows the severed head itself. I don’t think this was the Islamic State’s choice.” He added, “The likeliest possibility is that something went wrong when they were beheading him.”
Among the things that could have gone wrong, analysts surmise, is that the extremists did not have as much time outdoors as they did when they killed the others. The United States announced soon after the first beheading in August that they would send surveillance aircraft over Syria and residents contacted on social media have reported seeing objects in the sky that they believe are drones.
The first four beheadings were carried out in the open air, with a cinematic precision that suggests multiple takes, filmed over an extended period of time. Carrying out a similar level of production as surveillance planes crisscrossed the skies above would result in extended exposure — heightening risk.
Another possibility, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross said, is that Mr. Kassig resisted, depriving the militants of the ability to stage the killing as they wanted.