Dressed in a white headscarf and pausing to compose herself from time to time, the mother of the latest American hostage to be threatened by ISIS spoke today at an Islamic Center, saying she’s “proud” of her son.
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“His work has cast a huge footprint,” Paula Kassig said of her son Peter, who changed his name to Abdul-Rahman when he converted to Islam in captivity. “He has also left a footprint on the hearts of those who knew him in his youth here.”
Paula Kassig spoke at the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, Indiana, not far from where her son grew up. In her speech, she read a letter from a boyhood friend of Kassig’s, saying she hoped somehow the words would make it to his ears.
“We have been told by some of the released captives that they get news inadvertently, shared by the jailers,” Paula Kassig said. “It may involve a slap to the face and a little bit of punishment when they get this news, but they say it’s well worth it."
Kassig was kidnapped in Syria in October 2013, almost exactly a year before he was first revealed to be in ISIS captivity, appearing at the end of a video allegedly depicting the execution of British aid worker Alan Henning. When he was grabbed, Kassig had been working for Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA), an NGO he had founded in 2012.
Prior to founding SERA, Kassig served as a U.S. Army Ranger in the Iraq War. According to military records, he was honorably discharged for medical reasons in 2007.
Ed and Paula Kassig have reached out to ISIS and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Over the course of their campaign, the Kassigs have described their son as a devout Muslim and have appealed to his captors in English as well as Arabic.
“Our son’s journey culminated in him embracing Islam,” Ed Kassig says in their English appeal. “Sadly, he was taken captive and not free to continue his life’s work serving the people of the region.”
Speaking to the BBC Wednesday, Kassig’s former cellmate French journalist Nicolas Henin said Kassig had already converted to Islam when they first met in captivity.
“He introduced himself orally to all the guards as Abdul-Rahman, which was a name that he decided to take right after his conversion,” said Henin.
Henin said the aid worker and his cellmates would sometimes practice two additional nightly prayers, as well as regular fasts on Mondays and Thursdays.
In addition to Henning, three Western hostage have been killed on camera by ISIS: American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker David Haines.
In each execution video the next victim is shown, and so far, in each case ISIS has followed through on its threats, despite heart wrenching pleas from the hostages’ loved ones.
Rob Hess is a freelance journalist based in Chicago.