Death threat American ‘knew risks’

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Published: Thursday 9th October 2014 by The News Editor

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An American aid worker threatened with beheading in Syria researched the region and knew the dangers, but believed the good he could accomplish through his relief organisation outweighed the risk, his friends have said.

Abdul-Rahman Kassig, 26, of Indianapolis, was helping victims of the Syrian civil war when he was captured on October 1 last year. In a video released last Friday, a militant with the Islamic State group threatened to kill him following the beheading of British hostage Alan Henning.

Nearly 300 people gathered at Butler University, where Mr Kassig was a student from 2011 to 2012, yesterday, to celebrate his work to help Syrians and pray for his release. Many wore white in a symbol of peace; one woman held a white sign that read “A hero for peace”.

Many were members of the local Muslim community. They joined Mr Kassig’s parents and others in raising their hands in prayer as Hazem Bata, executive director of the Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America, quoted passages from the Koran and urged Mr Kassig’s captors to free him.

“Follow the religion you claim to hold so dear and have mercy on Abdul-Rahman,” he said. “We ask that you send him back safely to his family.”

Several of Mr Kassig’s friends said he was always interested in helping other people and drawn to the Middle East after experiencing the region as a US Army Ranger deployed to Iraq in 2007.

But he was well aware of the safety risks, said Todd Hill, who met Mr Kassig in college after his medical discharge from the army.

“He fully understood that this was a possibility and he accepted that, and I think that says a tremendous amount about the sort of person he is and to the kind of legacy he wants to create,” Mr Hill said.

Mr Kassig, who changed his first name from Peter after converting to Islam while in captivity, founded Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) in Turkey. The group provides food, clothing, medical care and other aid to those affected by the Syrian conflict.

According to the United Nations, some three million Syrians have had to flee their country, half of them children.

Mr Hill and Joe Dages, who both live in Louisville, Kentucky, said Mr Kassig researched the region before travelling to the Middle East.

“We knew he was going to go and do something to serve and to help, and it was going to be non-conventional and impressive,” said Mr Dages, a lawyer, who also met Mr Kassig in college.

Mr Dages said that when he and Mr Hill last saw Mr Kassig in March 2013, their friend was passionate about the work he was doing.

“He felt a need to stay up all day and all night and continue to help because people were dying all the time,” Mr Dages said. “He thought that, ‘Maybe if I can just pour a little more of myself into this we can save a few more lives’.”

Published: Thursday 9th October 2014 by The News Editor

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