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Syrian Friends Plead for Release of American IS Hostage

  • Heather Murdock

FILE - Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, an American aid worker, making a food delivery to refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, May 2013. Kassig is a being held captive by Islamic State militants. (Courtesy of Kassig family)

FILE - Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, an American aid worker, making a food delivery to refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, May 2013. Kassig is a being held captive by Islamic State militants. (Courtesy of Kassig family)

Syrian friends of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, an American aid worker held captive by the Islamic State, say his life is in "imminent danger" and are appealing directly to militants for his release. Formerly known as Peter, Kassig was a soldier in the Iraq war before he became an aid worker and converted to Islam.

Before Abdul-Rahman Kassig was captured, says his former roommate Firas Mousa Agha, he was a funny guy, making his friends laugh with impressions of action-movie characters. He could also be impatient when deliveries of humanitarian supplies were late.

Back then, Agha adds, Kassig was called Peter. In Lebanon, when they were roommates, Kassig was discovering Islam-praying and fasting during Ramadan. But Kassig didn’t officially convert and change his name until after he was captured in October 2013.

FILE - Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig (center) helps push an ambulance up a hill during his time working with SERA. Photo taken near Deir Ezzor, August 2013. (Copyright, with permission to use from Kassig family)

FILE - Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig (center) helps push an ambulance up a hill during his time working with SERA. Photo taken near Deir Ezzor, August 2013. (Copyright, with permission to use from Kassig family)

Kassig was once a soldier, Agha says, but his friends in Tripoli knew him only as an aid worker, dedicated to helping Syrians uprooted by war.

Another of Kassig’s friends, a Syrian aid worker who did not want to be named for security reasons, says they all told him not to go to Syria last fall, but Kassig insisted. As a former soldier, Kassig believed he was better trained to deliver medical supplies to civilians trapped in war zones than most aid workers, he says.

Threatening video

After his capture, Kassig’s family and friends were silent on orders from the Islamic State for a year. But early last month, militants released a video directly threatening Kassig and breaking the silence.

Since then, Kassig’s family, friends and supporters around the world have posted videos, tweeted and set up Facebook pages all asking the Islamic State to release Kassig, despite the groups’ fight with the United States.

Abdul-Rahman's father, Ed Kassig, spoke in a video appeal for his son’s release last month. Sitting next to him was Abdul-Rahman' s mother, wearing a headscarf and carrying a picture of her son.

FILE - Ed and Paula Kassig, in foreground, pray at a vigil for son Abdul-Rahman Kassig at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, Oct. 8, 2014.

FILE - Ed and Paula Kassig, in foreground, pray at a vigil for son Abdul-Rahman Kassig at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, Oct. 8, 2014.

“There is so much that is beyond our control. We've asked our government to change its actions, but like our son, we have no more control over the U.S. government than you have over the breaking of dawn,” said Ed Kassig.

In early October, after Islamic State militants killed Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff and U.K. citizens David Haines and Alan Henning, they threatened to kill Kassig next if the U.S.-led coalition did not stop bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.

Propaganda videos

John Cantlie, a British journalist, also remains an Islamic State hostage and has been appearing in propaganda videos, speaking for the Islamic State under duress.

Unlike Cantlie, Kassig has not appeared in any publicly-released images in recent weeks and friends say this has raised both hopes and fears.

About 30 Westerners have been detained by the Islamic State, which now controls vast swaths of Iraq and Syria. Many have been released after negotiations between militants and their governments. Both the U.S. and the U.K. have refused to negotiate, saying paying ransoms encourages more kidnappings.

In a garden in Tripoli, Marwan Abdl-Malek, a nurse who worked with Kassig in Lebanon, tells reporters they are publicly calling for Kassig's release because their friend is "a genuinely good guy."

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