Peter Kassig, the American aid worker murdered by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria, may have been killed by a gunshot wound rather than beheading, analysis has suggested.
Medical experts who have studied the ISIS propaganda video which shows his severed head said he may have been shot dead before being decapitated.
The analysis, carried out by a surgeon, lends weight to theories that Mr. Kassig, a former soldier, may have resisted his captors when they attempted to inflict on him the kind of ritualized beheading carried out on other hostages.
Unlike previous ISIS videos, the footage released in full last month does not show the murder itself, suggesting the jihadists thought footage of a captive who fought back would be of limited propaganda.
Detailed examination of the video also indicates that “Jihadi John,” the ISIS fighter with a British accent shown standing in the Syrian Desert with Mr. Kassig’s bruised and bloodied head at his feet, may have been superimposed into the scene. It will fuel speculation that ISIS may be exaggerating his role in the hostage murders for propaganda purposes.
The research has already revealed that the video was shot with the aid of a sophisticated film editing software package, which costs around $350,000 and is used in Hollywood to digitally alter real-life footage for special effects.
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The analysis, which is due to be published in full this week, has been conducted by Quilliam, the British anti-extremist think tank, in conjunction with the U.S.-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC). They enlisted the help of surgeons and video experts, whose identities have been kept secret for security reasons.
Charlie Winter, a researcher at Quilliam, said: “We have had a senior face and neck surgeon independently look at some of the screenshots we took. His initial assessment was that a contusion above Mr. Kassig’s left eye was a gunshot wound. Closer analysis reinforced that initial assessment, leading him to believe that the wound was probably the cause of death, rather than beheading.”
Mr. Winter said that a forensic digital analyst had also examined the footage of Mr. Kassig’s head and concluded that the neck wound did not suggest a “straightforward beheading.” The footage is a separate segment of a longer video.