With ISIS’s brutal murder of Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old American aid worker who dedicated his life to the plight of Syrian refugees, the militant group has one more U.S. citizen remaining in its clutches, according to current and former U.S. officials, as well as individuals involved in efforts to free the Americans.
The hostage is the only American woman held by the militant group. She is the same age as Kassig, and, like him, was kidnapped while trying to help people whose lives have been upended by the long Syrian civil war. She was particularly moved to help children who have been orphaned and separated from their families. The woman was taken in August 2013, along with a group of other aid workers who have reportedly been released.
U.S. officials and the woman’s family have requested that her name not be made public, fearing that further attention will put her in greater jeopardy. No news organization has published her name. But the general circumstances of her capture and captivity have been known and widely reported for more than a year now.
ISIS’s intentions for its remaining American prisoner are unclear. But current and former U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that it was notable she doesn’t appear at the end of a video, released Sunday, that shows the aftermath of Kassig’s beheading. That breaks with ISIS’s pattern of showing the next hostage it intends to kill.
ISIS has killed Muslim women, as well as children. But it has never murdered a female Western hostage on camera. Doing so would mark a radical departure even for a group that has relied on bloody propaganda to lure foreign fighters to its ranks.
A former U.S. counterterrorism official said that before ISIS decides what to do with its remaining American hostage, it will consider carefully the public reaction it could spark. “Before they’re doing anything, they want to have a really good feel for how it will play,” the former official said.
ISIS has reportedly demanded more than $6 million for the remaining American hostage’s freedom, a figure in keeping with the impossibly high ransoms it has placed on other U.S. citizens it has held. The Obama administration has a firm policy of not paying ransom for hostages and has even advised the families of Americans held in Syria that they could be criminally prosecuted if they paid for their loved ones’ releases. (ISIS has freed European citizens, however, from countries where ransoms aren’t illegal.)