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Obama confirms death of US hostage Peter Kassig after Isis releases video

Briton thought to have killed four other western hostages shown standing over a severed head

A desperate two-month campaign by the parents of American hostage Peter Kassig failed after a video showing his beheading was released by Islamic State (Isis) militants.

A statement from US president Barack Obama on Sunday night confirmed that Kassig had been killed after Isis released the video showing the black-clad British executioner thought to have murdered four other western hostages standing over a severed head. Obama offered prayers and condolences to Kassig’s family and said their son “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.”

The Isis video was uploaded after an impassioned campaign by the 26-year-old’s parents for Isis to spare their son, who recently became known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig after he converted to Islam. The family did not immediately acknowledge Kassig’s death. Instead they urged that the 16-minute video should not be disseminated to deny his captors “a chance to further their cause”. Friends of Kassig said they had little doubt he had been killed.

The video was strikingly different to the four others uploaded to the internet since mid-August, which depicted the killings of US reportersJames Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

A body is not shown, and nor was Kassig filmed making a final statement. Instead, his apparent death is revealed at the end of a potted history of the group’s evolution over the past decade and the grisly, unedited slaughter of up to 18 captured Syrian soldiers and airmen said to be near the north-east Syrian town of Dabiq.

The hooded man with the east London accent known as “Jihadi John” was again centre stage, narrating a warning to the British prime minister, David Cameron and US president Barack Obama after sawing off the head of a captured Syrian.

“To Obama, the dog of Rome, today we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar [al Assad] and tomorrow we’ll be slaughtering your soldiers,” he says. “With Allah’s permission we will break this final and last crusade and the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, begin to slaughter your people on your streets.” Unlike the killings of other western hostages, the camera does not pan away, as the killer moves a knife over his victim’s throat. Instead it shows him fixing a defiant stare.

Alongside him, 17 men in military fatigues, their faces showing, follow the Briton’s lead. British intelligence officials have known for at least a month the identity of the left-handed masked killer. The officials have focused their attention on former rapper Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, 23, who is known to have travelled to Syria to join Isis.

In the Raqqa region where the executioner is believed to be based, he is known by the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Britani.

The video is shot near pasture land and a hamlet, which is identified as Dabiq – a small town near the Turkish border where Isis fighters believe a pre-apocalyptic showdown will take place.

In recent weeks, the threat to Kassig’s life had drawn condemnation from jihadi leaders in Syria and Jordan who are not aligned to Isis. A senior member of the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra tweeted this month that Kassig had treated him for a battle wound and said there was no justification under Islam to kill him.

After being deployed in Iraq as a US army ranger, Kassig set up a medical charity to run aid to Syrian refugees in 2007.

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