The Islamic State militant group released a video Sunday that shows American aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded, along with a dozen Syrian soldiers, in the latest killings the group has posted on the Internet.
The White House later said a review of the video confirms Kassig’s death.
President Obama, in a statement issued as he flew back to Washington from Australia, said the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction.”
Obama said Kassig “was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed” by war. He called Kassig’s death “an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.”
The president offered condolences to Kassig’s family. “We cannot begin to imagine their anguish at this painful time,” he said.
Earlier during his flight, Obama was briefed about the video by national security adviser Susan Rice, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Kassig, 26, a former U.S. Army Ranger from Indianapolis, worked for charity groups in Lebanon and Syria and was captured in Syria by militants in October last year.
During his captivity, his family said Kassig converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman, which means “servant of the most merciful.
The video released Sunday is over 15 minutes long and appears to show a dozen Syrian soldiers being beheaded. A militant clad in black with a concealed face is pictured next to a severed head that he says belongs to Kassig. His actual beheading was not shown.
“Here we are, eagerly awaiting for the remainder of your crusading armies to arrive,” Kassig’s purported executioner says in the video, addressing Obama and the West.
The U.S. and coalition forces have been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq for weeks, but no ground troops are deployed.
Kassig’s parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, released a statement Sunday that they are “heartbroken” by the news and pledged “to keep his legacy alive.”
“We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family, not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause,” his parents also said.
Last month Kassig’s parents released parts of a letter written to them by their son.
“Don’t worry dad, if I go down, I won’t go thinking anything but what I know to be true. That you and mom love me more than the moon and the stars,” Peter Kassig wrote.
Over the weekend, the Daily Mail newspaper reported that the British-accented terrorist — dubbed “Jihadi John” by British media — alleged to be the executioner of two British and two American hostages was wounded in a coalition airstrike against Islamic State. The British government said it was investigating the report.
The man who speaks in the video released Sunday talks in similarly British-accented English.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday he was “horrified” by the apparent “cold-blooded murder” of Kassig.
Kassig is the third American, after journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, to be beheaded by the group, whose tactics are so extreme that al-Qaeda disavowed it earlier this year.
British journalist John Cantile, 43, remains an Islamic State hostage. He last appeared in a video from the group at the end of last month.
Contributing: David Jackson