The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has released its fourth video showing the murder and beheading of a Western citizen: Alan Henning, a British aid worker who had left his life as a taxi driver in the UK to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians. ISIS had threatened to murder Henning in its previous video, in which it had beheaded another British aid worker, David Haines.
The video ended with a member of ISIS standing next to another captive — an American aid worker named Peter Kassig — and threatening to murder him next. ISIS has previously murdered two American journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley.
Like ISIS' other Western victims, Kassig has devoted his life to helping Syrian civilians. In January 2013, then only 24 years old and volunteering at a Lebanese hospital for Syrian refugees, Kassig founded an aid organization called Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) dedicated to bringing Syrian refugees clothing, medical supplies, and food. CNN profiled him in this video:
"We may not have much but I have always felt that the reasons why you do something are as important as what you do," Kassig wrote on a fundraiser site for SERA. "This is about making a difference not just through material goods, but also the exchange of ideas and experiences that the international community benefits from through this type of initiative."
(Kassig set a fundraising goal of $10,000. As of this writing, the still-open campaign has received zero contributions.)
Time magazine did a brief interview with Kassig in January 2013 about his hopes for SERA and his ambitions of helping Syrians. Here is a sample of Time's discussion with the young man whom ISIS has threatened to murder:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
That is a good question. I believe that if you are passionate about something and you put the necessary effort into making it work (such as SERA) that it is ultimately up to you how long you can keep it viable. The work speaks for itself to some extent I think. I certainly plan on continuing to try and serve those who are in need for as long as I live.
The truth is sometimes I really think I would like to do something else, but at the end of the day this work is really the only thing that I have found that gives my life both meaning and direction. In five years, I certainly hope to have seen SERA grow into an international relief organization capable of helping hundreds of thousands of people around the world. I would also like to be able to say that I was able to give something back to everyone who helped along the way.
This work is important for the message that it sends to people back home, that one of the best aspects of the American way of life is our ability to come together in the face of adversity and to stand beside those who might need a helping hand. In five years, if I can look back on all of this and say that our organization is able to truly help people, that I was able so share a little bit of hope and that I never stopped learning then I will know this all stood for something.
The brutality of ISIS's murders, and its obsession with killing the men and women who have most dedicated their lives to helping the Muslims whom ISIS claims to serve, is so utterly loathsome that even al-Qaeda itself has opposed it, calling on the group, fruitlessly, to spare Henning.