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Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt

Cairo-based photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy goes inside the spiritual celebrations

It was late 2013 when Mosa’ab Elshamy wandered back into the Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo. As a young boy, the photographer, who recently joined the Associated Press, accompanied his grandmother as she and others worshipped. Some people were holding onto the shrine of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, while others were reciting passages from the Quran or weeping openly. “Inside, it doesn’t really feel like time has passed. The emotions that are there, the sounds that you hear—you can walk in and it’s going to feel exactly the same,” he tells TIME. Outside, the differences are apparent: more cafés, more traffic, more security.

Elshamy was looking for something to photograph that was a bit less restrictive than Cairo’s streets had become after Egypt’s revolution in 2011. And he found it. For more than a year, he documented the celebrations, or Mawlids, of saints and other holy figures of the Sufis around the country, marking his longest personal project to date.

Some 15 million of Egypt’s 90 million people are followers of the mystical Sufi philosophy of Islam. Worshippers at the Mawlids greet the shrines throughout the year to talk about their wrongdoings in the hopes that they can absolve them of their sins, Elshamy says. Many people will also go to ask for things, like women struggling to have children or men who cannot find jobs. Those who reject this religious philosophy say it’s a form of shirk, or idolatry, that has no place in Islam. (Attacks against shrines aren’t uncommon, especially in areas controlled by radical extremists.)

Part of what attracted Elshamy to the observances is the intimacy and spirituality of it all, displayed in ways that aren’t usually seen elsewhere in Egypt. “You don’t [typically] get that image of men, but here you see people almost publicly being proud of this vulnerability,” he says, “and I thought that was great.” Another main reason are the celebrations that surround them. Prayers and emotions displayed inside the mosques are met with rowdy festivities outside, including playgrounds and vendors, musicians and dancers. “It’s a lot bigger than just a religious celebration.”

The last Mawlid he photographed this past October was at the shrine of Abul-Hassan Al-Shazly. He was buried where he died—in Humaithara, of the Red Sea Governorate—and the mosque was built around him, so his worshippers travel there every year to honor him. Part of the celebration, Elshamy says, involves climbing one of the mountains the religious figure apparently stepped on, each day near sunset, then praying and singing while overlooking the mosque before descending to spend the night around the complex.

The weeklong celebration can coincide with the ‘Id al-Adha festival, so they’ll mark that occasion at the same time.

Elshamy says the project is what restored his faith after “a very tough year” in photography. “It was the year [when] many colleagues left Egypt or stopped photographing or switched to a more comfortable genre. I think everybody had to adapt in a way, when it was obvious how much more difficult it is becoming to just be on a street with a camera, or just try to document a protest or a clash.” This was his way of adapting, shooting something that was new and non-political and that he could continue to do freely.

“In a way this has been a bit of a silver lining, to discover things like this scene that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to,” he says. It all goes back to why he takes photos in the first place: “Seeing for yourself and keeping a record of what you see.”

Mosa’ab Elshamy is Cairo-based staff photographer with the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @mosaaberizing. Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism. Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME Behind the Photos

Back and Forth in Central African Republic’s Unholy War

One photographer's year-long look at the unending cycle of death and uncertainty in a country mostly neglected by the international community

That Central African Republic even managed to squeeze into last year’s news cycle is a grim feat. After all, it was stacked against heavyweights like the July downing of a Malaysian jet over eastern Ukraine, protests across the U.S. over several police killings of unarmed black men, an unprecedented Ebola outbreak, as well as a summer war in Israel and Gaza.

Each of those stories, and many others of similar intensity, commanded audiences around the world for their mystery or shock or tragedy or absurdity. And, notably, for their visuals.

The same could be said for the conflict in Central African Republic, which saw some of the darkest days of its independence last year as it struggled to rebound from a coup a year earlier. Among those who committed to documenting the spiral is French photographer William Daniels, who has made some half a dozen trips there over 14 months.

Daniels was initially drawn to Central African Republic because of its unknown complexities and absence in most mainstream media. Landlocked with 4.6 million people, it lies at the center of a bad neighborhood. Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo are at its south; Cameroon is to the west; Chad and Sudan are to the north; and to the east is a long border with South Sudan, where, away from most front pages of global news outlets, a raging civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Months of tit-for-tat attacks led to two days of street warfare that December, leaving hundreds dead in the capital and an international community scrambling to react. France swiftly approved a contingent of troops to restore order in its former colony; the soldiers were named “Sangaris,” after a butterfly in the region with a short life-span. Some 5,600 peacekeepers from the African Union deployed around that same time.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

But the intervention would do little at first to quell the violence. Some critics called the French operation too narrow for its focus on Séléka when anti-balaka shared blame. At the start of 2014, with the retreat of Séléka into the east and resignation of Djotodia, who would be succeeded by popular Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza, anti-balaka began to fill the void. Their retaliation in some cases would eclipse the brutality of what prompted them to assemble.

Reports of atrocities would soon build up, as experts and journalists warned of whole Muslim villages being looted and torched, with their residents being forced to seek refuge in churches, schools and medical clinics. Hundreds of thousands would flee into neighbors like Chad and Cameroon.

A recent United Nations report found that anti-balaka had carried out the ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim minority. As many as 6,000 people had died in the conflict so far, but “such estimates fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred.” The commission couldn’t conclude that there was a genocide but made clear that both Séléka and anti-balaka were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All year, Daniels aimed to unravel the tale of how a people who historically hadn’t seen violence along sectarian lines devolved into just that: Muslims and Christians, neighbors, turning on each other because they shared the holy beliefs of those who attacked them, looted and burned down their home, or killed members of their family.

The implosion of the conflict allowed him to dig deeper each time he returned. After covering the more newsworthy unrest in late 2013, he flew back several times last year to bear witness to the grim aftermath.

In February, he recorded the violent assault by anti-balaka on Muslim communities. In April, he documented the exodus out of the country and violence in Grimari, a small town near Bambari that lies at the entrance to Ouaka region. While on assignment then for Al Jazeera America, he captured the plight of refugees trapped in a Muslim enclave, and in September he got a peek inside Séléka.

Daniels admits that the balance of keeping to the news while going below the surface to probe the conflict’s tangled roots has been a challenge.

“It’s difficult to shoot daily life in the street in this country,” he says during a call from Bangui in December. “It was difficult before and it’s much worse now because as soon as you show your camera, someone will get upset and someone will ask ‘what are you doing?’ and someone will ask for money. It’s a nightmare and very, very uncomfortable.”

BanguiA Christian man is destroying burn out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that was set on fire earlier, in the capital Bangui.
William Daniels—Panos A Christian man destroys burnt out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that had been set ablaze. Bangui, Central African Republic. Dec. 10, 2013.

Returning to Central African Republic as much as he did last year allowed him to gauge any progress.

The overall security situation in Bangui was less tense in December than early fall, with more shops and markets open for business and more people back at work, he says. “Each time I come back, it’s a bit more.” In the capital, for example, where in late 2013 he photographed a man filled with rage destroying a burnt out car next to a looted mosque, a basketball court now stands in its place.

“It’s becoming better in places like Bangui but that doesn’t mean it’s better everywhere,” he says. “And there’s still a potential in many places for a big explosion of violence.” A U.N. mission took over from the African Union force in September and France plans to withdraw 1,200 troops—”we allowed this country—one of the poorest in the world—to begin healing,” President François Hollande said—but bouts of inter-communal violence still flare up often.

Thirty percent of the country’s population is considered as being in “a moderate to severe food security situation,” the U.N. said on Jan. 13, and 440,000 people are still internally displaced. More jobs are needed, too, especially for youths. A recent report by Save the Children estimates that some 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls were part of armed groups, well above the 2,500 thought to be involved at the start of the conflict. And elections, originally scheduled for February, have now been delayed to at least summer.

It’s that grim assurance of uncertainty and global neglect, in part, that will keep him going back. Support from grants and hefty stipends helps. In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. (Disclosure: This reporter helped shape his entry essay.) And in December, he was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch.

Daniels continues to see the challenge of documenting the personal impact of the country’s strife. It’s easy to get aggravated at the scenes witnessed, but it’s his recognition that it’ll take time, and patience, and a lot more aid, to turn things around that keeps him grounded and motivated. He may return as early as next month.

“It would be pretentious to say that my pictures could completely change the situation,” he says. “But I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening here. I think it’s important to keep testifying.”

William Daniels is a Paris-based photographer represented by Panos Pictures.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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Beneath the Front Lines of the War in Eastern Ukraine

A brutal ground war is tearing apart the region's coal-mining community as the long winter settles in

The miners didn’t hear the impact of the shell and kept extracting coal from the earth more than half a mile below the battlefield. They continued their work for several minutes, oblivious to the danger they were suddenly facing.

The shell, said to have been fired on Nov. 22 by the Ukrainian army in its war against pro-Russian separatists, had struck a shed at the state-owned Chelyuskintsev coal mine in the Petrovskyi district, located on the western edge of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The resulting explosion damaged the electrical and ventilation systems that serve the mine’s deepest shaft. A phone call from the security supervisor at the surface brought troubling news to the deputy director, who was working down below with more than 50 miners: they had just two hours of oxygen left, and the nearest elevator was now unpowered.

French photographer Jerome Sessini happened to be photographing at the mine that day. “At the beginning, the miners were quite relaxed and some of them were joking with us because it was a bit weird to see a photographer at the bottom of the mine,” Sessini told TIME. “The miners changed—their attitudes changed—so I felt something very serious was happening.” The deputy director reassured him that all was well, saying “don’t worry, everything is okay, just walk and everything will be fine.” (He wouldn’t find out until more than an hour later the kind of threat they had faced.)

The men began to find their way up and out of the mine on foot, using their headlamps to light the way. Shadowed by Sessini, they walked for about 30 minutes until they reached a rusted cable car powered by a small rescue generator. The car took them along a railroad eight kilometers (five miles) away to an elevator that ran off a power source unaffected by the shelling. They were now 270 meters (885 feet) below ground level. The elevator hauled them to the top of the mine. An hour and 20 minutes after the shelling, the men reached daylight—safe from the threat underground but back into the war zone.

Since last spring, the Russia-backed separatists have fought government forces for control of the eastern region of the country, one of Ukraine’s main industrial hubs and its coal-mining heartland. At least 4,700 people have been killed in the fighting, the U.N. estimates, and more than half a million are internally displaced.

Based in Paris, Sessini has spent much of the past year covering the unrest and its civilian impact in Ukraine. From the pro-independence demonstrations in Kiev, which erupted after the country’s former president opted against signing an association deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, to the rise of the separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, he has intimately documented the country’s fracture into civil war.

In July, Sessini was among the first on the scene after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a missile, killing all 298 people aboard. That’s where he first came into contact with miners, when they were scanning the fields with firefighters, looking for victims. Aware that mining is the region’s backbone — some families have taken up the profession for generations — he was interested to go deeper and arranged with his translator to find an active mine that would let him in.

Ukraine’s country’s coal industry, Europe’s fourth largest, has been hit particularly hard by the conflict. Sixty-six of eastern Ukraine’s mines had been lost as of Nov. 18, according to Euracoal, a Brussels-based trade association, and just 60 remained in operation. The drop in production—Ukraine produced 2.3 million tons of coal in October, according to its State Statistics Service, down almost 60% compared to the same month a year earlier—has created a critical shortfall.

And it’s taken a toll on the thousands of families in eastern Ukraine that rely on the industry. The closures have halted paychecks for months and left many without work. Sessini described the miners as “a very proud people,” the “elites” of the community who are somehow keeping their humanity despite the war: “They try to show they are having a normal life but you can see in their faces a kind of anger and frustration and depression.”

Some families have fled the region in search of stability; others have moved underground into World War II–era bomb shelters. And while miners have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the conflict, desperation and resentment have pushed some into the arms of the separatists.

The Ukrainian government said in late December that it has arranged to import enough coal to avoid power outages in the coming months. The imports will help Ukrainians stay warm during what is sure to be a cruel winter, but until the two sides strike a peace deal, the suffering in eastern Ukraine will continue—above ground and below.

Jerome Sessini is a French photojournalist represented by Magnum Photos. Kira Pollack, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Director of Photography. Follow her on Twitter @kirapollack. Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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Meet the Young Survivors of the Peshawar School Attack

Portraits of survivors after the Dec. 16 terror attack in Pakistan

Note: All student accounts were told to AP photographer Muhammed Muheisen while on assignment for TIME.

The third Tuesday in December appeared to begin like any other for students of the Army Public School in Peshawar. After offering early morning prayers, dressing in their uniforms and eating breakfast with family members, they went to school. Many pupils at the military-run institution in northwestern Pakistan are the offspring of army personnel. Some 1,100 were there that morning. At nightfall, about a tenth of them would be dead.

The siege began at around 10 a.m., after a group of militants in suicide vests entered the guarded compound from the back. They unleashed a fury of bullets as they surged through the campus. Some went to the auditorium, where a first aid lecture was being given. (About eight hours later, following a heavy response by security forces, the insurgents were dead but had taken more than 140 innocents with them. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.)

Mohammad, 14, was seated on the left side of the hall, listening to the instructor discuss bandaging, when he heard shooting outside a door in the back. A gunman with a long beard and scarf covering half his face entered seconds later. “Anyone in the room whose parents are in the Army?” he shouted three times.

The hall erupted in panic. Mohammad recalled being pushed from behind and falling to the ground, in between chairs, as other students piled on top of him. “I closed my eyes, I stopped my breathing and I lost track of time,” he said. A few minutes later, after the auditorium had grown silent, he started shifting the bodies off of him to get a better look at the scene.

He began moving when he didn’t see any gunmen, but was soon spotted. He jumped through a mess of chairs to a small dressing room off the stage, where a group of students was cowering in silence. There, he found his best friend, who had been shot in both legs and was missing a finger on his right hand. “I sat next to him and leaned my head on his shoulder,” said Mohammad.

Shortly afterward, one of the gunmen opened fire from the doorway, killing those who faced him. Mohammad stayed put after the militant left and until help arrived. “I could only hear soldiers asking if there is anybody alive but I couldn’t respond and suddenly my friend started crying, so the soldiers heard us and came to us.” Mohammad was escorted from the building and into an ambulance as his friend was carried out. “It’s a miracle I’m alive,” he would later say. “It’s a miracle I’m alive.”

His account, told to Associated Press photographer Muhammed Muheisen in the days after the assault, was similar to two students who were in the auditorium and echoed others that would grip the world in the wake of one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks. Muheisen, the AP’s chief photographer in Pakistan, gained access to the school on Dec. 18. He passed through two checkpoints on opposite sides of a gate before entering in the same stairwell the militants had used two days earlier. He retraced their’ path into the back of the auditorium, where rows of overturned wooden chairs were the least of it.

“It smells like blood, death everywhere. As you go down, between the chairs there is blood, bullet shells, body parts,” he tells TIME. “It’s just when you enter this room, you feel this auditorium is kind of a death trap,” he adds. “You could feel what happened in this place.”

He moved through different portions of the main building, including classrooms and a corridor where first-responders traded firepower with the militants. At one point, Muheisen couldn’t hold back tears any longer. “School is supposed to be a peaceful place for children to study, to be educated, but this is a battlefield,” he says. “I’ve never seen such a horrific scene in my life.”

Beginning two days later in the school’s yard, Muheisen met students or the families of victims where a vigil had formed. They were at the school to retrieve their bags and other items that had been left behind. He sensitively approached survivors — “it was obvious in their faces” — to hear their accounts and ask for a portrait. Many were not ready to talk.

One girl, Mesbah, “really broke my heart.” Muheisen sat down next to the seven-year-old and asked if she wanted to say anything. “I remember nothing of that day,” she politely replied. “I have no memory of it.”

Afaq, 16, closed his eyes as he described where he was in the auditorium when the shots rang out. Seated in the front on the left side of the room, he recalled turning his head to see a gunman and, just as fast, rushing out a door nearby and running home. Batur, 14, did similarly, fleeing the auditorium as the chaos unraveled. He told Muheisen that he asked a rickshaw driver for a ride home, where he sat with his mother and watched it all unfold on television.

Muheisen also met two brothers who survived. The younger one, Muzammil, 12, was “a better talker” than his older brother and vividly recalled how his teacher asked him and his peers to stop crying and “be quiet or we all are going to be killed.” He was escorted out and found his father among the sea of parents awaiting word about their children. As did Muddathir, 14, who was in a classroom when he heard shooting. After being led out of the school and reuniting with his father and brother, he said, “I felt as if I [was] just born into this world.” Muheisen says Muddathir was still “terrified,” like “he’s not out of the school yet.”

Having spoken with 11 students, Muheisen could put together a bleak picture of how they were managing. “They’re lost,” he says, bluntly. “They’re talking but it’s like they’re not aware of what happened.” Most had gaps in the middle of their stories. “From one student to another, the impact is different. But you can see through the body language of the students what they [went] through.”

For his part, Muheisen recognizes his role. “This is the power of what we do and this is the power of photojournalism,” he says. “Those stories would otherwise only remain with the survivors, but this way we give them a voice.” He calls the children he met “heroes,” as they not only had to survive the attack, but now must live with it. While some highlighted how dangerous it is to study there, they told Muheisen of their intent to return to class.

“Education is so valuable and essential but there is a price to be paid to be a student in Peshawar,” Mohammad told him. “I will go back to my school again.” Afaq admitted he is afraid to return to the same school but that the attack had shifted his ambitions: “I always wanted to become a doctor, but now I want to join the army and fight terrorism and save lives,” he said. “I don’t want to just cure my people, I want to make sure that they never get harmed.” Bilal, 16, doesn’t think he’ll return to the school but understands the importance of education: “I have to go back to a school. If we don’t study, we will remain blind, and I don’t want to spend my life being blind.”

Muzammil, not yet in his teens, put it like this: “I will protect my country with a pen, not a gun.”

Muhammed Muheisen is the Associated Press’ chief photographer for Pakistan, based in Islamabad. He joined the AP in 2001, covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and major events in the region. In 2003, he started traveling on international assignments and was part of the team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2005 for their work in Iraq, and again in 2013 for their coverage of the civil war in Syria. He was named TIME‘s Wire Photographer of 2013.

Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz

TIME On Our Radar

William Daniels Wins 2014 Tim Hetherington Grant

The photographer has spent the last year documenting the impact of strife in Central African Republic

French photographer William Daniels, a frequent contributor to TIME, was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch on Thursday for his ongoing work in Central African Republic.

His project, titled “Roots of Africa’s Unholy War,” was chosen from 198 applicants. The annual honor, established after Hetherington, a British photojournalist and filmmaker died in April 2011 while covering the conflict in Libya, comes with a €20,000 prize that allows the recipient to continue a project focused on human rights issues.

Daniels has made several trips over more than a year to Central African Republic to document the effects of unprecedented violence after the Séléka coalition of mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March 2013. The move bred political chaos and ignited a vicious revenge from armed groups of predominantly Christian and animist fighters called anti-balaka. Last December, two days of street violence left hundreds dead around the capital, Bangui, and forced the global community to respond.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

Throughout the next year, deadly tension pushed much of the country’s Muslim minority into the eastern region or beyond the borders. Rights groups warned of ethnic cleansing as French and African peacekeepers have struggled to contain the violence.

Daniels has balanced keeping up with the news while also investigating the roots of the conflict. The commitment he and other photographers have made to bearing witness — amid huge news draws like the war in eastern Ukraine, ISIS and wrath of Ebola in West Africa — was a main factor in keeping Central African Republic on the radar.

In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography for the same work. Based in Paris, he has devoted his career to documenting humanitarian and social issues, from disease in Africa and Asia, to the unrest in Libya, to the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

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

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

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