Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott reacted on Sunday to claims made by the Islamic State group that it has beheaded a U.S. hostage.
The militants, fighting in Iraq and Syria, claimed in a video posted online on Sunday that they had beheaded American hostage Peter Kassig. Kassig, 26, of Indiana, converted to Islam while in captivity and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Germany's Angela Merkel in Sydney, Abbott described the Sunni Muslim group as a “death cult.”
“Look, we all know that this ISIL death cult is utterly barbaric, utterly barbaric, and beheadings are part of their stock in trade,” Abbott said, referring to another name for the group.
The video did not show the beheading but showed a masked man standing with a decapitated head covered in blood lying at his feet.
Speaking in English in a British accent, the man says: “This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen.”
In his reaction, Abbott referred to the violent tactics of Islamic State militants.
“We have seen a gruesome catalog of beheadings, of crucifixions, of mass executions, of sexual slavery since the ISIL death cult started to consolidate its hold in eastern Syria and northern Iraq,” he said.
If confirmed, Kassig's beheading would be the fifth such killing of a Westerner by the Islamic State group, following the deaths of two U.S. journalists and two British aid workers.
Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage, which appeared on a jihadist website and on Twitter feeds used by the Islamic State group.
British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the Islamic State group as a “depraved organization” on Sunday after extremists released the video.
Cameron said that like others who have been “murdered in cold blood” by the group, Kassig was a selfless humanitarian worker who had gone to the region to help others.
Cameron said Sunday the video “underlines the deplorable depths to which these terrorists are prepared to go - savagely murdering a compassionate man.”
US, Britain analyzing video
The White House said the U.S. intelligence community was examining the video. Britain's Foreign Office said it was also analyzing the video.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that if the video is authentic, the White House would be "appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "horrified by the cold-blooded murder,'' saying that the Islamic State group has "again shown their depravity."
Kassig's family said it was awaiting the outcome of the investigation. "We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family, not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause," the family said in a statement.
Kassig's parents have said through a spokesperson their son was taken captive on his way to the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Oct. 1, 2013.
Burhan Agha, a Syrian friend who worked with Kassig in Lebanon and who moved to Switzerland seeking asylum, wept when recounting his generosity Sunday.
"If I could apologize to each American, one by one, I would, because Peter died in Syria, while he was helping the Syrian people,'' Agha told The Associated Press by telephone. "Those who killed him claimed to have done it in the name of Islam. I am a Muslim and am from Syria. ... (His killers) are not Muslims."
Kassig, who served in the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment and was deployed to Iraq in 2007, was doing humanitarian work through Special Emergency Response and Assistance, an organization he founded in 2012 to help refugees from Syria, the family has said.
In an apparent reference to testimony about Kassig by former fellow captives, the masked man said: “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 announcement of Kassig's death formed part of a 15-minute video in which the group issued warnings to the United States, Britain and others, including Shi'ite Muslims.
It also shows militants beheading several men identified as pilots and officers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“To Obama, the dog of Rome, today we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar and tomorrow we will be slaughtering your soldiers,” the masked militant said.
Some material for this report came from AP.