The Philippines has committed to help in the fight against the growing threat of the Islamic State, amid reports that the jihadists beheaded 19 people, including an American aid worker, which United States President Barack Obama decried as “an act of pure evil.”
On Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III expressed the government’s commitment to help Turkey in its fight against IS to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a meeting at the Palace.
Aquino noted that Turkey “faces the difficult challenge of addressing the threat of ISIS in the embattled town of Kobane in Syria near the Turkish border.
“It is a threat that has brought great conflict to that nation and to many other nations beyond that vital region. The various pressures presented by extremism seek to test the resolve of Turkey,” the President said.
“Just as your people have partnered with us in advancing a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, allow me to say that it is my nation’s hope that we will be able to help Turkey as it confronts the persisting and emerging challenges of our time, such as the threat of ISIS. Rest assured, you will find a partner in the Filipino,” he added.
Aquino earlier created a technical working group to monitor and profile foreign fighters and terrorist groups.
Davutoglu, for his part, pledged his country’s full support behind the peace process, in particular the disarmament of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Davutoglu said he has directed senior Turkish diplomat Haydar Berk to focus on the disarmament process as chairman of the Independent Decommissioning Body.
“I have instructed him [Berk] to stay in the Philippines and if needed, don’t come back to Turkey until you finish this job,” the Turkish leader said, eliciting laughter from officials attending the luncheon.
Aquino and Davutoglu also witnessed the signing of an expanded air services agreement that will allow direct flights for the first time between the two countries.
Obama, meanwhile, confirmed the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig, who converted to Islam and took the name of Abdul Rahman after the ISIS released a video. The video showed the severed head of Kassig.
It also showed the gruesome simultaneous beheadings of at least 18 men described as Syrian military personnel, the latest in a series of mass executions and other atrocities carried out by IS in Syria and Iraq.
Obama said “actions such as beheadings represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul Rahman adopted as his own.”
Kassig, 26, is the sixth foreign captive executed by Islamic State and its sympathizers after the jihadist group seized large portions of northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria and declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory.
The video also recounts the growth of IslamicState from 2003, when its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi began terrorist operations in Iraq.
“The Islamic State’s choice to show the entire beheading process of the Syrian pilots is another attempt to terrorize the American public from supporting its involvement in a war against IS,” SITE’s director, Rita Katz, said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The video is cruder than previous ones produced by the al-Qaeda breakaway group, according to two U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary conclusions. In the face of U.S. and allied airstrikes, Islamic State extremists may no longer be comfortable remaining in one place in the open desert as long as they did in previous videos, the officials said.
In addition to hostages, Islamic State also has executed hundreds of its foes in both Syria and Iraq.
“We are heartbroken to learn that our son, Abdul Rahman Peter Kassig, has lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people and his desire to ease their suffering,” Kassig’s family said in a statement posted on their Facebook page. “Our heart also goes out to the families of the Syrians who lost their lives, along with our son.”
After beheading British hostage Alan Henning, a 47-year-old working for a charity delivering aid to Syria, the Sunni Muslim militants had warned that Kassig would be next.
In the video released yesterday, a masked man accuses Obama of lying about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He also identifies his location as the town of Dabiq in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
“Here we are, burning the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” the masked man says on the video in addressing Obama, according to SITE.
Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger who served in Iraq, became interested in humanitarian relief work when he visited Beirut, Lebanon, as a student at Butler University in Indianapolis, according to an interview in Time magazine last year.
He began volunteering as a trauma medic for Syrian refugees in a Lebanese hospital and then created his own relief organization called SERA, or Special Emergency Response and Assistance, he said in the interview. The grassroots group, which worked in tandem with larger aid organizations, focused on providing food, medical supplies and clothing to those in need, he said.
“These were the selfless acts of an individual who cared deeply about the plight of the Syrian people,” Obama said.
Kassig was captured while traveling in Syria in October 2013.
“I certainly plan on continuing to try and serve those who are in need for as long as I live,” Kassig said in the Time interview.
Unlike in previous execution videos, the victim wasn’t shown making a statement prior to his death.
The absence of a confession or propaganda speech by Kassig suggests the former Ranger refused to cooperate with his captors, one of the U.S. officials said. Even if he had cooperated, Kassig would have been executed anyway, particularly since he had served in the U.S. military, the official said.
Islamic State and its supporters have executed citizens of the U.K., France and the U.S., including two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, and French tourist Herve Gourdel. They have called the killings reprisals for the armed campaign against them.
The beheadings helped galvanize international opposition to Islamic State, leading to the formation of a U.S.-led coalition that is carrying out airstrikes in support of Kurdish and Iraqi government forces combating the extremist group.
The latest murder appears to be another attempt by Islamic State to draw the U.S. into a direct military confrontation with Sunni extremists, a third U.S. official said.
The emotional and political impact of the beheading is also likely to fuel a policy debate within the Obama administration on two fronts: whether still more U.S. troops are needed and whether to concentrate primarily on defeating Islamic State or devoting some resources to ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as many Arab allies want, the official said.
Kassig, an Iraq war veteran, had risked his life to provide medical treatment and relief supplies to those suffering from Syria’s civil war.
He founded a group through which he trained some 150 civilians to provide medical aid to people in Syria. His group also gave food, cooking supplies, clothing and medicine to the needy.
During a trip to refugee camps outside the Lebanese capital Beirut in March 2012, he said he found a “shortage of everything except suffering.”
“Here, in this land, I have found my calling,” Kassig wrote in an email to friends, family and teachers at the time.
“I do not know much, every day that I am here I have more questions and less answers, but what I do know is that I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand. To make a difference.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that American government officials had worked alongside Kassig’s family to try to secure his release.
“During his time in captivity, his family, and the entire government, including his home state Senator Joe Donnelly, worked to avoid this tragic outcome,” the top US diplomat said.
Kassig was the fifth Western hostage killed by IS in recent months, after the two US reporters and two British aid workers were beheaded.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “horrified” by the “cold-blooded murder,” which French President Francois Hollande called a “crime against humanity”. With Bloomberg, AFP
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