The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants fighting in Iraq and Syria claimed in a video posted online on Sunday that they beheaded several Syrian hostages and an American.
The video came two days after a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in Syria said the extremist group has been receiving “external support” in the past four years.
In a highly choreographed sequence earlier in the video, jihadists marched at least 18 hostages, said to be pilots and officers from the Syrian Arab Army, past a wooden box of long black military knives, each taking one as they passed, then forced them to kneel in a line and simultaneously decapitated them.
In the video, which is the latest in a series of mass executions and other atrocities carried out by ISIS, the extremist group announced the beheading of Peter Kassig and issued warnings to the US President Barack Obama, Britain and others including Shia Muslims.
"To Obama, the dog of Rome, today we are slaughtering the soldiers of [Syrian president] Bashar and tomorrow we will be slaughtering your soldiers. And with Allah's permission, we will break this final and last crusade, and the Islamic State will begin to slaughter your people on your streets," a masked militant said.
The video did not show Kassig’s beheading but showed the masked man standing with a decapitated head covered in blood lying at his feet.
"This is Peter Edward Kassig, a US citizen,” the English-speaking executor said in a British accent.
Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage, which appeared on a jihadist website and on Twitter feeds used by ISIS.
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 October 1st last year.
Kassig, a 26-year-old from Indiana and a former soldier, was doing humanitarian work through Special Emergency Response and Assistance, an organization he founded in 2012 to help refugees from Syria, the family said.
ISIS has captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, declaring what it calls a cross-border Islamic ‘caliphate,’ killing thousands and displacing millions in the two countries.
The latest video is one of many graphic videos the group posted online, showing mass executions as well as the beheadings of Lebanese soldiers and Western hostages.
If confirmed, Kassig's beheading would be the fifth such killing of a Westerner by ISIS, following the deaths of two US journalists and two British aid workers.
Besides mass executions and beheadings, a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in Syria said in a report that the US-led airstrikes against ISIS in Syria “have led to some civilian casualties” and that the extremist group has been deploying fighters and arms in civilian houses and farms.
The report released by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria on Friday also said the group had set up detention centers in hospitals and schools and detainees were being whipped, electrocuted and suspended by their arms from the walls or the ceiling.
Moreover, according to the report, ISIS amputated the fingers of men caught smoking and lashed others for having tattoos and not attending Friday prayers.
ISIS militants have been marrying girls as young as 13, the report added.
"The abuses, violations and crimes committed by the so called ISIS have been deliberate and calculated,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the inquiry, said, adding that the group was imposing "a rule of terror" on the areas under its control.
The report, based on more than 300 first-hand witness accounts, accused ISIS of preventing the supply of humanitarian aid and reinforcing the dependence of civilians on the services it controlled.
"Humanitarian agencies have not been unable to reach about 600,000 people in ISIS-controlled areas in Syria since July," the report said.
According to Pinheiro, ISIS’ militants have been receiving “external support” in the last four years.
"They did not fall from the sky. They have been entering Syria with external support in the last four years," he said, adding sarcastically that the presence of ISIS was not a "big discovery."
Commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn said that some of the fighters in Syria had shifted allegiances.
"Some of them have come from other groups, such as Syria’s al-Qaeda branch, al-Nusra Front. There is shifting alliance factor based upon money and other things," Muntarbhorn stated.
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