TIME Middle East

Video Depicts ISIS Execution of British Aid Worker, Threatens American

Alan Henning was thought to have been abducted in Syria last December

Updated Saturday, Oct. 4

A video released Friday by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appears to show the execution of British aid worker Alan Henning. A man identified as Peter Edward Kassig, an American, is then threatened with a similar fate.

U.S. intelligence officials had not yet authenticated the video Friday evening, but it follows the pattern of other execution videos released by ISIS. “The brutal murder of Alan Henning by [ISIS] shows just how barbaric these terrorists are,” British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts are with his wife and their children.”

The White House also released a statement:

“The United States strongly condemns the brutal murder of United Kingdom citizen Alan Henning by the terrorist group ISIL. Mr. Henning worked to help improve the lives of the Syrian people and his death is a great loss for them, for his family and the people of the United Kingdom. Standing together with our UK friends and allies, we will work to bring the perpetrators of Alan’s murder – as well as the murders of Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines – to justice. Standing together with a broad coalition of allies and partners, we will continue taking decisive action to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

Henning, 47, was thought to have been abducted in Syria last December, shortly after crossing the border from Turkey in an aid convoy. Henning’s wife and family released the following statement Saturday morning:

Alan, my husband, and father of Lucy and Adam, was kidnapped in Syria in December last year. Last night we received news of his murder by ISIL. It is the news we hoped we would never hear. As a family we are devastated by the news of his death. There are few words to describe how we feel at this moment. Myself, Lucy and Adam, and all of Alan’s family and friends are numb with grief.

During this ordeal we have relied heavily on the support of many people. That support from the Government, FCO and GMP has been there from the start and has meant that we were able to get through the most awful of times. We always knew that Alan was in the most dangerous of situations but we hoped that he would return home to us. That is not to be.

On behalf of the entire family, I want to thank everyone who campaigned for Alan’s release, who held vigils to pray for his safe return, and who condemned those who took him. Your efforts were a great support to us, and we take comfort in knowing how many people stood beside us in hoping for the best.

Alan was a decent, caring human being. His interest was in the welfare of others. He will be remembered for this and we as a family are extremely proud of him and what he achieved and the people he helped.

We now need time to come to terms with our loss. We would therefore be grateful if our privacy could be respected at this time.

The video is similar to three earlier execution videos released by ISIS since Aug. 19, which showed the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and most recently of British aid worker David Haines.

Kassig, a former Army Ranger who deployed to Iraq in 2007, spoke with TIME in January 2013 about his humanitarian work and beginning an aid group called Special Emergency Response and Assistance.

“I started SERA because I felt that we could fill a niche as an organization that had not been filled. There are a lot of other wonderful organizations out there but we feel that by working directly with the people who are in need at a grassroots level allows for us to establish an invaluable personal relationship that not only allows us to effectively distribute material goods but also allows for an opportunity for an increased level of cooperation and an exchange of ideas between people from diverse backgrounds and experiences and that this enhances our ability to accurately meet needs. The personal connection is key.”

Kassig’s family released this video statement Saturday morning:

TIME Turkey

Photos Show ‘Unprecedented’ Shift of Refugees Into Turkey

More than 138,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed the border

Among the top accusations against Turkey during Syria’s ongoing civil war has been that its government has not done enough to stem the flow of foreigners who slip over its border and into the ruthless jihadi groups operating between Syria and Iraq. But just as those thousands have crossed the boundary into Syria and Iraq to take up arms — some are thought to have joined extremist factions like the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — Turkey’s 560-mile-long border has also proven a valuable exit for more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

Officials estimate more than 138,000 Syrian Kurds joined them in recent days, putting that exodus among the largest population shifts of the conflict since it began more than three years ago. The influx resulted from fierce battles between ISIS and Kurdish forces near the city of Ayn al-Arab, known to the Kurds as Kobani, following the militants’ seizure of Kurdish villages near the border during a recent advance. To put that figure into perspective, Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency, says the “unprecedented” push into Turkey is nearly equal to the number of Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Europe during the war.

Kobani is a short leap from the Turkish town of Suruc and had previously been mostly spared from the fighting that has devastated other parts of Syria. “This was really an enclave of relative safety, Kobani, and in fact there were 200,000 internally displaced people who had found some semblance of safety there over the last few years,” she tells TIME. “It was a place to flee to, and now all of a sudden it’s a place to flee from.” Fleming added that the agency is now preparing for a worst-case scenario in which all 400,000 residents of Kobani flee to Turkey to escape the threat.

Bulent Kilic, a Turkish photographer with Agence France-Presse based in Istanbul, arrived to the region late on Sept. 19 and began shooting the next morning. Kilic had seen media reports beginning to focus on this area and, having missed the opportunity in August to document the tragedy of the Yezidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq, boarded a plane and headed southeast. The first wave began slowly on Thursday but soon ticked up, with the big surge coming over on Friday and Saturday.

Turkish officials had initially barred the Syrian Kurds from passage, but later reversed course and opened border crossings — “without any ethnic or sectarian discrimination,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the time. And so they moved, on foot, with whatever they could carry. Those who crossed were mostly women, children and the elderly or injured, Kilic recalls, as most of the men and boys of fighting age stayed behind. “They left everything behind them — their toys, their homes, everything,” he says.

Kilic knows these types of scenes well. He covered the unrest during Turkey’s Gezi Park demonstrations last year, deadly clashes in Ukraine this past February and the Soma mine blast in May. He saw similar scenes of despair over the last few days, but his prior experiences doesn’t make them any easier to encounter. There was one moment he says moved him the most: a family at the border had three children, a few elders and two or three others. There were also a trio of goats that the adults were hoping to walk into Turkey. But the animals’ entry was denied.

“Their mother was trying to get them to come with her, but the children were crying because they couldn’t take the goats. At the same time, she was trying to control the goats. It was very dramatic,” he says.

The family left one or two people to take care of the animals near the border as the others, including the children, pressed on. Kilic says this story reminded him of his childhood because he would often care for his grandfather’s goats in his hometown.

“I understood them,” he admits. “They couldn’t leave these goats on the other side. They loved these goats and they didn’t want to leave because if they leave the goats, they’ll die or disappear or someone will take them. I couldn’t watch, I couldn’t continue, I started shooting something else.”

Making the pictures he wants to make in situations like this is difficult, Kilic says, but the best ones to him are those that show the humanity of his subjects and the reality of what he’s seen.

TIME Middle East

In Photos: Injured Syrian Refugees Adjust to Life With Prosthetics

One in 30 Syrian refugees in Lebanon was injured in the civil war

Some 200,000 people have died in Syria’s ongoing civil war—and there’s no end in sight. But it’s the impact on those who make it out alive and injured—often severely—that can sometimes be forgotten.

More than 3 million Syrians are registered as refugees outside their home country, the latest U.N. figures show. Turkey, Iraq and Jordan have all taken in hundreds of thousands of them, but nearly 1.2 million have crossed into Lebanon. According to an April report by Handicap International, one in 30 Syrian refugees in Lebanon had been injured, which means that tens of thousands of people there are carrying permanent scars from the war.

Irish photographer Andrew McConnell has been based in Beirut for about two and a half years. During that time he has frequently photographed along the Syrian border and covered the refugee crisis in Lebanon from its earliest stages, watching the numbers grow from a few thousand refugees largely hidden in society to a mass that is now equal to more than a fifth of Lebanon’s pre-war population, spread throughout urban areas and informal settlements.

Earlier this year, when McConnell was on contract working alongside UNHCR and a partner organization called the World Rehabilitation Fund, he met more than 20 refugees who were receiving rehabilitation treatment, including prosthetics.

McConnell was moved by stories from people like Fatima, a 15-year-old living at a tented settlement near Tripoli, who had been traveling with her brother and father to Homs in 2011 when a bomb fell on the road. The next thing Fatima knew, she was waking up in the hospital without her right leg. She became depressed after being provided with an ill-fitting prosthetic, but her mood lifted after receiving a better-fitting one from the WRF.

He also met 15-year-old Nawaf at a rehabilitation center in Tripoli, who was severely burned when a bomb hit his house near Hama. His uncle rushed him to a nearby field hospital but doctors had to amputate his right arm above the elbow. The boy later received a prosthetic arm and is learning a range of moments, and is slowly becoming more self-reliant. But, McConnell notes, “you just wonder what’s ahead for him, trying to cope with this new reality.”

But it was Hussein, a 10-year-old living in a collective shelter in Tripoli, with whom McConnell spent the most time. Hussein had been presumed dead after a bomb hit his home in Syria, but was found unconscious at the morgue the next day as bodies were being prepared for burial. The boy received two artificial limbs after doctors amputated both legs above the knee.

“At first, he was very apprehensive about this foreigner and having his picture taken and telling his story,” says McConnell. “He was deeply traumatized but I remember he had probably the most state-of-the-art prosthetics that I saw.” After spending more time with the boy and as Hussein became more accustomed to his new legs, his mood changed and he opened up a bit. “I remember pacing alongside him as he learned how to walk again.”

TIME Crime

The Oscar Pistorius Case: How It All Began

The March 11, 2013, cover of TIME
The March 11, 2013, cover of TIME Cover Credit: PIETER HUGO / THE NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE

In March 2013, TIME took a deep look at the origins of the Pistorius case

The murder trial that transfixed the world for much of 2014 began drawing to a close on Thursday, as a South African judge found Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius “negligent” but not guilty of murdering his girlfriend. Pistorius, 27, fired four shots into a bathroom at his Pretoria home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, killing model Reeva Steenkamp, but based his defense on thinking she was an intruder.

Global media relentlessly followed the case, which at times grew graphic and included a break so Pistorius’ mental health could be evaluated by experts. The judge is expected to issue a formal verdict on Friday, Sept. 12. Pistorius can still be found guilty of culpable homicide, or murder without premeditation, and may face years in prison.

Last March, TIME featured Pistorius in a cover story about this tragic series of events — not just it’s beginning between Pistorius and Steenkamp, but also in terms of the place of violence in South African society. The relationship between that culture and the famous athlete is a meaningful one, Alex Perry wrote:

If South Africa reveals its reality through crime, it articulates its dreams through sports. When in 1995—a jittery year after the end of apartheid—South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, adopted the Afrikaner game, rugby, and cheered the national team on to a World Cup win, he was judged to have held the country together. In 2010 his successors in the ANC delivered the message that Africa was the world’s newest emerging market and open for business through the faultless staging of a soccer World Cup.

Pistorius was the latest incarnation of South African hope. He was born without a fibula in either leg, and both were amputated below the knee before he reached his first birthday. Using prosthetics, Pistorius went on to play able-bodied sports at Pretoria Boys High School, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools, before a knee injury left him on the sidelines. Advised to run for his recovery, he began clocking astonishing times using carbon-fiber blades that copied the action of a cheetah. In 2012 in London, he took two Paralympic gold medals and one silver and ran in an Olympic final and semifinal.

That March 11, 2013, story is now available free of charge in TIME’s archives. Click here to read it in its entirety: Pistorius and South Africa’s Culture of Violence

Read next: Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

TIME Terrorism

Why Westerners Are Fighting for ISIS

A growing number of Westerners are joining the Islamist militant group— but why?

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is gaining notoriety for its barbaric methods, after videos showing beheadings and mass killings surfaced online.

Meanwhile, the group has been attracting an increasing number of foreign fighters from the West, analysts say. But why are so many foreigners joining ISIS’s fighting ranks? Among a range of explanations, one of them is that, compared with other jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS is extremely welcoming to foreigners, says Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma.

“The biggest reason for that is that ISIS philosophically has welcomed all Muslims as equals, as it’s building an Islamic state which does not have particular Syrian angle,” Landis says. “Also, ISIS’s leadership is made of people with very prominent roles that are foreigners so you’re not going to be discriminated against philosophically if you’re foreign.”

Social media also plays a significant role.

While in the past jihadist groups operated in secretive online forums, ISIS spreads its message — both in English and Arabic — on Twitter and Facebook, which are inherently open to the public. With its sleekly produced propaganda videos, ISIS reaches young, restless Muslims or other devotees around the world with a cause that they see is worth fight for, experts say.

“For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” says Matthew Levitt, the director of counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Their online material shows capturing territory, establishing states, beheading enemies: they show that they are the sexiest jihadi group on the block.”

The U.S. State Department estimates that about 12,000 foreigners have traveled to Syria from at least 50 different countries to fight with a number of different groups, including ISIS. Marie Harf, a deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told CNN that officials estimate the number of Americans fighting with Syrian-based groups ranges from several dozen to 100.

For more on ISIS’ recruiting techniques, watch the video above with TIME editor Matt McAllester.

TIME Iceland

Look at These Incredible Close-Ups of a Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

Among the first scenes from Bardarbunga's latest activity

Update: Sept. 3, 1:56 p.m.

Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson has been photographing volcanoes in Iceland for four decades, so it makes sense that he’s keeping a close eye on the latest activity at Bardarbunga, which rests on the northwestern edge of the Vatnajokull ice cap.

Bardarbunga, which is classified by Iceland’s meteorological office as its second highest mountain, is topped with glacial ice. Officials say the current bout of seismic activity began on Aug. 16 after a gradual intensification over the past seven years.

While this volcano has not yet led to the same transportation mayhem that the Eyjafjallajokull eruption did in 2010, when more than 100,000 flights were canceled and Europe’s airspace was closed for six days over fears that billowing ash could harm aircraft engines, travel warnings have been elevated to “orange,” which means the volcano “shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.”

Sigurdsson, 56, of Arctic Images, is based near the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík. He and a friend traveled an hour and a half in a two-seater plane from Akureyri, in the north, to Bardarbunga and the nearby Holuhraun lava field. No one lives at this barren location, but heavy seismic activity to the north has led to closed roads and the evacuation of tourists.

“We flew as close as we possibly could — and legally permitted,” Sigurdsson tells TIME. Officials had briefly raised the warning to “red” after a fresh lava eruption, which barred their aircraft from descending lower than 6,000 ft.

Sigurdsson seated himself behind the pilot and opened a window to shoot. Heavy turbulence made for a rough session, though. “I was strapped down into my seat and was still thrown up to the ceiling,” he says. In terms of gear, Sigurdsson used a Canon 5D Mark III with a 70-200mm lens, as well as two Sony cameras with a 24-70mm lens.

“We would stay upwind at all times,” he says, adding that the plane could only spend just less than an hour at the site. “We did some circles around the volcano, and then we had to leave because the weather was getting so much worse.”

Sigurdsson knows the scenes look intense but relishes working in such extreme environments. “It looks like we are daredevils or Indiana Jones or something,” he says, “but we were playing it safe. We knew exactly what we were doing.” Still, with thousands of earthquakes over the past few weeks, there are concerns that a big one could open up another fissure, which could lead to a large eruption.

He returned the next day under better weather conditions.

TIME will be publishing more exclusive images from Sigurdsson as events progress.

TIME Malaysia

See the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash Site in Ukraine From Space

Malaysia Airlines flight 17 crash site in Ukraine, July 20, 2014.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, July 20, 2014. DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

Satellite image released by DigitalGlobe shows a main impact site on July 20

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was traveling some 33,000 feet above eastern Ukraine on July 17 when it was struck by a surface-to-air missile believed to have been fired by Russia-backed separatists, resulting in the deaths of 283 passengers and 15 crew members from 12 nations. (Read about the lives lost in the tragedy.)

DigitalGlobe released this image on July 21, one day after its QuickBird satellite captured it. Debris from the plane, which had been traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was scattered over several square miles near the area of Grabovo. (For a closer look, see Jérôme Sessini’s photographs from immediately after the crash.)

President Barack Obama accused the separatists on Monday of removing evidence from the impact site following reports that bodies were not being properly released and international investigators were being blocked from the scene.

TIME Syria

Report Details Hardships Facing Syria’s Refugee Mothers

Syrian Refugees; Lebanon; North Lebanon; refugees
Sanaa, 26, washes clothes in a borrowed washing machine at a shelter in Saida, Lebanon, on March 4, 2014. Lynsey Addario—UNHCR

Some 145,000 refugee households are headed by women

A new U.N. report grimly details the daily plight of thousands of Syrian refugee mothers who have fled civil war and now toil as their household’s primary breadwinner.

Four-fifths of the 2.8 million Syrians who have fled their war-torn homeland since March 2011 are women and children, says the U.N., leading to some 145,000 refugee households headed solely by women. The survey, based on three months of interviews with 135 women in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, provides a snapshot of the complexities they endure while trying to feed and protect their children, find enough work to make rent and retain any semblance of the lives they enjoyed before war broke out.

They represent women who once managed their homes, even as their husbands usually handled physical and financial security, but who now lead households in unfamiliar and often insecure communities. Lebanon, a nation of 4 million, has taken in more than a million people. At least 600,000 have entered Jordan, with most gravitating toward urban areas, an influx that has crushed certain infrastructure. In addition, some 137,000 have made it to Egypt.

António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said “escaping their ruined homeland was only the first step in a journey of grinding hardship” and called their treatment “shameful” as the crisis worsens. “They have run out of money, face daily threats to their safety and are being treated as outcasts,” he added, “for no other crime than losing their men to a vicious war.”

Typically, their first challenge was simply finding a roof. Many make do with overcrowded or makeshift housing, due to few options and difficulties in securing a stable and sufficient income. Only one-fifth of those interviewed had paid work, and many others said they relied on cash assistance from aid groups or generosity from others in their community.

Paying rent is among their top stressors, as is feeding loved ones. With an average of 5.6 people per household, some mothers said their families ate less as a whole or individuals held back so others could eat more. “Rent is more important than food,” one woman who lived with her seven children in Amman told the U.N. “We don’t remember what meat or fruit tastes like,” echoed another, who kept a home of nine people in Giza, Egypt.

The vast majority of women interviewed relied on food vouchers from the U.N. World Food Programme, but very few complained that their households were going hungry.

Among a number of other issues reported were an inability to afford proper medical care, regular instances of verbal harassment and even offers of free accommodation in exchange for sexual favors. A significant portion said they left their homes much less often than they did in Syria.

The U.N. expects these problems to worsen, as it estimates the total number of Syrian refugees will reach 3.6 million by year’s end, unless aid agencies, donors and host governments renew their commitments of support.

TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry Presses for Iraq Peace but Warns Militants Could Force U.S. Action

Secretary of State John Kerry met with top Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish political leaders in Baghdad on Monday. He warned that the threat from militants storming across Iraq could force the U.S. to take military action, even as he pressed the country's leaders to cede more power to opponents and forge a political solution to the crisis

Updated 3:18 p.m. E.T.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Monday that the threat from militants storming across Iraq could force the U.S. to take military action, even as he pressed the country’s leaders to cede more power to opponents and forge a political solution to the crisis.

“They do pose a threat,” Kerry said of fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “They cannot be given safe haven anywhere.

“That’s why, again, I reiterate the President will not be hampered if he deems it necessary if [political reconciliation] is not complete,” Kerry added.

Kerry’s comments came during an unannounced visit to Baghdad, during which he met with the country’s top officials and urged Shi‘ite leaders to cede more power to their rivals as Sunni insurgents plunge the country into chaos.

Kerry had a 90-minute closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom U.S. officials pushed to be more inclusive in his government to bridge the country’s sectarian divide, worsened by years of policymaking that slighted Sunnis and the Kurdish minority in the north. Kerry said afterward that al-Maliki, along with other government officials, had committed to meet a July 1 deadline to build a new power-sharing government.

He also met with top Shi‘ite cleric Ammar al-Hakim and one of Iraq’s most senior Sunnis, parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. “These are difficult times,” he said in the meeting with al-Nujaifi, while reaffirming the Obama Administration’s commitment to stabilizing Iraq’s security. “But the principal concern is for the Iraqi people — for the integrity of the country, its borders, for its sovereignty.”

Kerry spoke about the unrest playing out in Iraq the day before while in Cairo. “This is a critical moment where together we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry told reporters.

The Middle East trip comes days after President Barack Obama confirmed the U.S. would send 300 military advisers to assist in the training of the Iraqi military as it attempts to beat back the ferocious assault spearheaded by ISIS extremists. Those troops, Obama said, would not engage in combat missions.

— Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller and Michael Crowley

TIME Iraq

Satellite Photo Shows Smoke Billowing From Contested Iraqi Refinery

A satellite view shows smoke billowing from the key oil refinery complex in Baiji on June 18, 2014.
A satellite view shows smoke billowing from the key oil refinery complex in Baiji on June 18, 2014. USGS/NASA/Getty Images

The refinery was overrun earlier this week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group

A satellite photo handed out by the U.S. Geological Survey Thursday shows a plume of smoke billowing from a large oil refinery in Baiji, Iraq that provides much of the region’s fuel for electricity and transportation. The image was taken Wednesday.

The Baiji plant, which lies about 130 miles north of Baghdad, was overrun by insurgents and allies of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Tuesday as part of their lightning offensive through the Sunni heartland toward the capital. The plant shut down as a result of the fighting, which prevented workers from doing their jobs.

Exactly who’s in control of the sprawling complex after two days of intense fighting remains unclear. An Iraqi military spokesman claimed Thursday that government troops had pushed the militants to retreat and were in control, but workers who escaped the siege said militants were still patrolling part of the grounds. Footage aired on Al-Arabiya appeared to show ISIS’ signature black flags flying above the refinery, signaling it could still be in charge.

 

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