U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered a review of how Washington can release 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 I.S., following the deaths of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
In the letter from Obama, dated Nov. 11, Christine Wormuth, the U.S. 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 U.S. government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases,” Wormuth said in the note posted on The Daily Beast. 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.”
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,” Kassig’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.”
Kassig’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, Gov. Mike Pence called the killing “an unspeakable act of barbarism.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also used the word “barbarism” to describe I.S. on Monday, insisting the world would not be intimidated in the battle against it.
It was the latest in a series of atrocities by I.S., an extremist group that has seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria. The latest video showed 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 I.S. 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.
Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to join I.S. 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 center of previous I.S. beheading videos and appeared again in Sunday’s recording claiming Kassig’s killing. The father of another British jihadist fighting with I.S. 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 I.S. after the two U.S. 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 I.S. “Here we are burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” the militant says.