ISIS militants released a graphic video this weekend announcing the beheading of American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig — known as Peter Kassig before his conversion to Islam last year — and 18 Syrian prisoners.
French authorities have identified a French national — Maxime Hauchard, from Normandy — as one of the militants in that video.
“They think he’s one of possibly two French people in the footage. Others say that there are Germans in it, and Britons,” explains BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner. “It does seem to be a core of really hardcore extremist, sadistically cruel European jihadists who are lining up to behead these Syrian airmen.”
Kassig had previously served with the US Army in Iraq in 2007. He moved to the Middle East after his discharge and worked as an emergency medical technician, later founding an organization to support Syrian refugees. He was captured slightly more than a year ago when travelling through eastern Syria.
Kassig's actual death is not shown, unlike previous ISIS-produced videos that showed the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. But it's apparent that Kassig is dead at the end of the video, and the 18 Syrian prisoners shown alongside him are beheaded on camera in full detail.
There's another key difference, Gardner says: “In this one, they deliberately showed the faces of nearly all the murderers." In previous videos, the killers were masked.
Gardner says it's a tactic used to incite anger and military action from the Western world.
“The camera lingers on them, as if to say, ‘We’ve got people from all over the world, this is a diverse movement, and we’re not afraid to show you who we are — come and get us if you dare,'" he says.
There is one militant who does remain masked — a man, allegedly from London, who the British press have dubbed "Jihadi John."
“While railing against the airstrikes, he taunts the West to send ground troops," Gardner says. "The one thing, of course, they would love to do, is capture US troops and parade them on camera — that’s what they really want."
The video even names the location where it was filmed by ISIS. “This one, actually, identifies itself [as being filmed in] a tiny little village called Dabiq in northern Syria, — which, according to Islamic prophecy, is where there will be an apocalyptic battle between Muslims and non-Muslims," Gardner says.
With all of these previously hidden bits of information, Gardner says the message is clear: "It’s a kind of taunt to President Obama and to the West generally.”