TIME Middle East

More Foreign Fighters Are Going to Iraq and Syria Than Ever Before, UN Says

Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province in Syria, June 30, 2014.
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province in Syria, June 30, 2014. Reuters

More than 15,000 have come from more than 80 countries

More than 15,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and similar extremist groups, according to a new United Nations report.

The report, obtained by the Guardian, warns that jihadists are traveling to fight on an “unprecedented scale” from more than 80 countries, including some that have not had previous links with al-Qaeda activity. Although the report to the UN Security Council did not give a full list of these countries, it said: “There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together.”

The report also states the core of al-Qaeda remains weak but suggests that the decline of al-Qaeda has led to a boost in jihadist support for its successor groups like ISIS. The U.N. writes that ISIS is a “splinter group” of al-Qaeda but that the two groups “pursue similar strategic goals, albeit with tactical differences.”

Read more at the Guardian

TIME Terrorism

U.S. Military Ups Vigilance as Fears Mount of Fresh ISIS-Inspired Attacks

William Mayville
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., speaks about the operations to target the Khorasan Group in Syria on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, during a news conference at the Pentagon. Cliff Owen—AP

Defense officials are fearful that their personnel may be targeted after receiving public threats from terrorists operating in the Middle East

The American military is warning service members and their families to be a bit more vigilant amid threatens directed from or inspired by ISIS, according to a report on Thursday.

Law enforcement officers and service members were described by the Pentagon, in an internally circulated memo last week, as “legitimate targets” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the Military Times reports. The message came days after a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, killing one soldier.

The Marine Corps was also reported to send out an announcement that called on troops to report “even the most minor suspicious activity” and to be prudent when posting updates on social media. And officials at MacDill Air Force Base, overseeing the 6th Air Mobility Wing in Tampa, Fla., were said to have instructed troops to keep a low profile and avoid public affiliation with the military.

According to a dossier compiled for the U.N. Security Council, an estimated 15,000 individuals have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS and other militant organizations. The large number of fighters receiving training with such groups has raised fresh fears in the U.S. and abroad of domestic attacks should they return home.

[Military Times]

TIME Middle East

Israel Closes Jerusalem Holy Site After Shooting

A masked Palestinian youth throws a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces in east Jerusalem on Oct. 30, 2014.
A masked Palestinian youth throws a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces in east Jerusalem on Oct. 30, 2014. Ahmad Gharabli—AFP/Getty Images

The Palestinians said temporary closure of the Al Aqsa mosque was a "declaration of war"

Israel closed all access to Jerusalem’s most sensitive religious site on Thursday, a rare move that ratcheted up already heightened tensions following the attempted assassination of a prominent Jewish religious activist and the killing of his suspected Palestinian assailant by police.

The Palestinians accused Israel of a “declaration of war,” deepening a crisis fueled by failed peace efforts, continued Israeli settlement construction and months of simmering violence in the holy city. While Israel said it would reopen the site on Friday, the increasingly religious nature of the unrest risked igniting further violence.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders blamed each other for the tensions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has called for banning Jews from the hilltop holy site, of inciting the violence.

“The international community must stop its hypocrisy and act against the inciters,” Netanyahu said.

Abbas, meanwhile, said Jerusalem is a “red line that must not be touched.” The decision to close access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound was “a declaration of war” that “will lead to further escalation and instability,” his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said. Abbas made no mention of the attempted killing of the Jewish activist.

East Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians, has experienced unrest since the summer, with Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at motorists and clashing frequently with Israeli police. The violence gained steam last week, when a Palestinian motorist rammed his car into a crowded train station, killing a 3-month-old Israeli-American baby girl.

Much of the unrest has centered on the holy site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The violence reached a new high late Wednesday when a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded Yehuda Glick, a U.S.-born activist who often leads groups of Jews on visits to the site.

Glick is a leading voice in efforts to allow Jews to pray on the mosque compound — something that Israeli authorities ban because they fear it would prompt violence. Muslim worshippers view Jewish prayer there as a provocation, fearing that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over the area.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Glick warned of the growing violence in Jerusalem and said Jews were increasingly being attacked by Muslims.

“The more extreme Islamist organizations are taking over and if we don’t stop them early enough, they will take over the entire Jerusalem,” he said. “We’re calling upon the Israeli government: Stop the violence.”

He remained hospitalized Thursday in serious condition.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the shooting and said the U.S. was “extremely concerned by escalating tensions” in Jerusalem. “It is critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the status quo,” she said, adding the U.S. had been in touch with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials to calm the situation. Under a longstanding arrangement, Jordan holds custodial authority over the mosque compound.

Early Thursday, police forces surrounded the suspected gunman at his home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the man, identified as Moataz Hijazi, opened fire and was killed by the Israeli forces.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said Hijazi had served 12 years in Israeli prison for a number of crimes before he was released in 2012. It described him as a sympathizer of the Islamic Jihad militant group, but said he appeared to have acted alone in Wednesday night’s attack.

Shortly after Hijazi was shot dead, clashes broke out in Abu Tor, with Palestinians hurling stones at riot police, who responded with rubber bullets to suppress the demonstration. A funeral was planned late Thursday.

The decision to close access to the holy site for the first time in more than 14 years underscored the incendiary nature of the current tensions.

The Palestinian uprising against Israel began after then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Jerusalem site in what many saw as a provocative gesture. That visit — in September 2000 — resulted in a temporary closure of the site.

Late Thursday, police said the site would be reopened on Friday to male Muslim worshippers over the age of 50 and female worshippers of all ages. Younger men would be barred, they said, because of the risk of renewed violence.

The Jerusalem tensions come at a sensitive time. U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed last April, and Israel battled Hamas militants in Gaza during a 50-day war over the summer.

More recently, Israel has announced plans to press forward with housing construction in east Jerusalem, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and other key allies.

This week, anonymous senior U.S. officials were quoted as criticizing Netanyahu as cowardly and indecisive in an interview with The Atlantic, and on Thursday, Sweden formally recognized a state of Palestine, a symbolic show of displeasure with Israeli policies.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the derisive language used to describe Netanyahu in The Atlantic interview, and said he was still hopeful to forge peace.

“We still believe it is doable, but it takes courage, it takes strength,” he said.

TIME Iran

Young Iranians Stay Home in Fear of Acid Attacks

Police promise to capture men who recently burnt eight women

Nazar Street is one of the most liberal streets in Isfahan, a historic city 340 kilometers south of Tehran. Young men and women mix more freely than elsewhere and women wear their hijabs more loosely, revealing more hair than the law allows.

But this week, the street was quiet and its restaurants empty as people avoided public places in the wake of a series of acid attacks on young women. Eight women have been badly injured after having acid thrown in their faces by unidentified men in recent weeks causing fear and anger in the city.

Thousands protested Wednesday in Isfahan to demand security for women, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency. Demonstrators, including many mothers, worried for the safety of their daughters. “Security and freedom are our indisputable rights!” they shouted. “Down with Iran’s Daesh,” refererring to the Arabic acronym for the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Soheila Joerkesh, 26, was driving back from an afternoon out swimming with her friends on Oct. 13 when she pulled over to speak with her mother on the phone. Just as she had started to speak, a motorcycle stopped beside her car and a passenger got off with a glass canister in his hand. “Suddenly Soheila started screaming, I could hear her scream for more than 5 minutes before the call got cut,” her mother told local media. “By the time we found her at a hospital she was blind. Her cellphone had been melted by the acid that the motorcyclist had thrown onto her face.”

All of the victims have been young women who were attacked on busy main streets by male motorcyclists or passengers throwing acid on their faces. The women have suffered third-degree burns on their faces, necks, chests and hands, and will require cosmetic surgery.

Many women in Isfahan now fear going out. “One of my colleagues has her husband drive her to and back from work. Another says she nearly dies from fear whenever a motorcycle passes her car. I myself take the bus now as it seems safer,” Fatemeh, a female resident of Isfahan said on Wednesday, asking for her surname not to be published. “We are all worried, we only leave home when it is absolutely necessary.”

Women in Iran have been required by law, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, to dress modestly and not wear cosmetics. The enforcement of morals is one of the duties of the Basij militia. Many women, however, have resisted and flaunt the rules by leaving parts of their hair exposed. Members of hardline religious groups have staged demonstrations protesting what they call the decadent clothing of women. This has led to rumors that some members of these groups are behind these attacks.

“People are saying it’s a group called Ansar trying to force women to have proper hijab. I don’t know if that’s true, but many are now using masks to cover their faces to escape possible attacks, which is ironic, as the attacker didn’t even feel the need to cover his face,” Fatemeh said, pointing to reports that the culprits had not gone to any trouble to hide their identities.

Most of Iranian society has reacted angrily to the attacks.

“Throwing acid is an ugly, heinous and disgusting act, maybe murder is more acceptable, this crime is despicable,” General Esmaeel Ahmadi-Moghadam, head of the Iranian police, told the Fars News Agency on Wednesday. And the deputy head of the Judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, told state television two days earlier that those responsible would receive “such a punishment for the culprits when they are arrested that no one would ever dare commit such crimes again.”

Others said the attacks were carried out by people linked to Western intelligence agencies in a bid to damage Iran. “Today we are seeing the foreign media network trying to link this crime to promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” said General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij paramilitary force, according to news website Mashreghnews.ir.

With none of the assailants arrested yet, many Iranians are posting comments on websites and social media that criticize the police force. Some compared the swift arrests of the makers of the Pharrell Williams’ Happy video in Tehran, “within hours” in May, to the fact that weeks have passed since the first acid attack.

Soheila’s mother struck a similar chord. “We asked them can we look at footage from surveillance cameras in Soheila’s route, but they refused,” she said. “Why are they not showing us the footage?”

TIME Opinion

ISIS and American Idealism: Is History Going Our Way?

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to ISIS waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

In the Middle East, it's theory versus reality

Future historians, I suspect, will look at the United States’ current effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS while simultaneously insisting that President Assad of Syria must step down with some puzzlement. Foreign intervention in civil wars is nothing new. France and Sweden intervened in the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants in Germany in the early 17th century, France intervened in the American Revolution, and the United States has intervened in civil wars in Korea, Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia. But while in those previous cases, the intervening power took one side of the conflict, in this case, the United States now opposes both parties. How have we ended up in this position? The answer, I would suggest, goes back at least until the early 1990s, when the collapse of Communism convinced certain intellectuals and the US foreign policy establishment that history was inexorably moving our way.

A new era in world politics began in 1989, with the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union. In that year a political scientist named Francis Fukuyama, then serving as deputy director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, wrote a sensational article, “The End of History?,” in the conservative journal The National Interest. Communism was about to collapse, and Fukuyama argued tentatively that the world was entering a new era. “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history,” he wrote, “but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Within two years Soviet Communism and the Soviet Union itself were dead, and many thought Fukuyama had been proven right. He elaborated his ideas in a scholarly work, The End of History and the Last Man, which appeared in 1992.

Fukuyama had worked with prominent neoconservatives, and neconservatives in the Bush Administration wrote his fundamental idea into their 2002 National Security Strategy, a blueprint for US domination of the world based upon democratic principles. “The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism,” it began, “ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity.” Like the Marxists over whom they believed they had triumphed, this view saw history moving in a definite direction, and those on the “right” side believed that they had a right, if not a duty, to push history in the right direction. President Bush repeatedly declared that the Middle East was ready for democracy, and decided to create one by overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. (Fukuyama, interestingly, declared in 2006 that the Bush Administration and neoconservatism had gone astray.) That did not lead, however, to democracy, but rather to a terrible religious civil war in Iraq, featuring the ethnic cleansing of about four million Iraqis under the noses of 150,000 American troops. The United States finally withdrew from Iraq after seven years of war, and the Shi’ite led Iraqi government has now lost authority over both the Kurdish and Sunni parts of the country, with ISIS moving into the Sunni areas.

What went wrong? In 1993, Samuel Huntington had put forward an alternative view of the future in another widely read book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. To begin with, Huntington—who, ironically, had been a graduate-school professor of Francis Fukuyama’s at Harvard—denied that the western way of life now dominated the globe. How the future would develop, he argued, remained a very open question. Though Huntington painted with a very broad brush, his vision looks more accurate now than Fukuyama’s. The Muslim world is both enormous and diverse, and nothing suggests that Muslims from south Asia through much of Africa are about to embark upon a war with the West. However, most of the major contending factions among the Muslims of the Middle East—the groups that realistically stand to come to power in contested regions like Iraq and Syria—reject, to varying degrees, fundamental principles of western civilization, including religious tolerance and the separation of church and state. Yet both various pundits and the leadership of the Obama Administration, including the President himself, remain convinced that the Middle East has a destiny to follow the western model, and that American intervention in their civil wars can encourage them to do so. The Obama Administration reacted to the Arab spring based upon the assumption that the fall of authoritarian regimes was both inevitable and surely beneficial to the peoples involved. At first that seemed to be true in Tunisia, but the Administration has in effect backtracked on it by accepting the military coup in Egypt, and in Libya and Syria this plan has not worked out at all. Just this week, the New York Times reports that the new freedom in Tunisia has allowed ISIS to recruit numerous fighters there.

Speaking to the United Nations on Sept. 24, President Obama insisted that ISIS must not, and cannot, prevail, because of the evil that it has done. He also called upon the Middle East to reject religious war and called for “a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world” to work against violent ideology. These are inspiring words to American ears, but they are finding almost no echo among the competing factions of the Middle East. For a complex variety of political, religious and cultural reasons, ISIS has commanded more dedicated support than any other Sunni faction in Syria or Iraq. Nor is there any evidence that two of their principal opponents—the Assad regime in Syria and the Shi’ite led government in Baghdad—share the President’s views on democracy and religious toleration either. The Obama Administration has been reduced to trying to stand up a “third force” of more friendly, reliable Sunni insurgents in Syria—a strategy the President rejected a year ago after a CIA paper explained to him that it was most unlikely to work.

Nearly 80 years ago, writing in the midst of another great world crisis, an American historian, Charles A. Beard, noted a distressing fact: that history shows no correlation between the justice of a cause and the willingness of men to die for it. This has not changed. We cannot rely upon impersonal forces of history to create a better world. Instead, the current U.S. attempt to impose a vision not supported supported by any major political group in the region is likely to create more chaos, in which extremism can thrive. We and the peoples of the Middle East both need peace in that region, but that peace must be based upon realities. If we decide ISIS is indeed the most important threat, we shall have to recruit allies from among the actual contending factions, rather than try to build our own from scratch. And, while encouraging cease-fires and the peaceful settlement of ongoing conflicts, we might try to set a better example for the peoples of the world by making democracy work better here at home.

David Kaiser, a historian, has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College, and the Naval War College. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. He lives in Watertown, Mass.

TIME Iraq

Three Dutch Bikers Have Joined the War Against ISIS

The men, from Netherlands-based motorcycle club No Surrender, have military backgrounds

Three members of a motorcycle club from the Netherlands have joined Kurdish fighters in Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Fellow biker Klaas Otto told Dutch media that the trio all have military backgrounds and were motivated to travel to the war-torn country after seeing the atrocities committed by ISIS, according to the BBC.

“They wanted to do something when they saw the pictures of the beheadings,” Otto said.

There is a significant Kurdish population in the Netherlands.

The three men hail from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Breda, and the gang they are a part of — No Surrender — is reportedly the biggest biker group in the country.

Dutch officials said that joining the Kurdish forces would not be illegal. However, joining terrorist organizations like ISIS is forbidden.

[BBC]

TIME National Security

More Americans Say Boots Are Needed on the Ground to Fight ISIS

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani
Smoke billows following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and militants from Islamic State, on October 14, 2014 as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border. Gokhan Sahin—Getty Images

Many believe the air campaign is not enough, a poll finds

More and more Americans say combat ground troops need to be deployed to take the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Approximately 41% of Americans surveyed said the military campaign against ISIS should include “air strikes and combat troops,” compared with the 35% who said the offensive should be constrained to aerial bombardments. Of the individuals polled, just 15% said they believed no military action should be taken against the radical Islamist group.

The findings represent a reversal in public opinion since a similar poll was taken in September, when 40% of those surveyed only backed air strikes and 34% were in favor of the use of aerial assaults and combat troops together.

Coalition bombers and fighter jets continued to batter ISIS positions across Iraq and Syria this week. U.S. Central Command confirmed that American aircraft and those from partner nations launched 22 strikes in Syria and at least one aerial assault in Iraq on Tuesday.

Read next: The FBI Wants Your Help IDing American ISIS Fighters

TIME world affairs

Why We Should Send Vets Back to Iraq and Afghanistan

Jake Wood is a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, CEO of Team Rubicon and author of Take Command. Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and COO of Team Rubicon.

With over 2 million veterans from these wars, the U.S. is sitting on a reservoir of ready and able humanitarians

When we heard the news of Peter Kassig’s capture by ISIS terrorists, it felt like a punch in the gut. While we don’t know Peter, the organization he founded, SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance) is much like our own, Team Rubicon. Since 2010, we have been recruiting, training and deploying thousands of military veterans to serve communities afflicted by disasters. Our members are ideally suited for these missions, bringing such skills as strong leadership, effective decision-making and the ability to operate in austere environments with limited information.

As effective as Team Rubicon has become at assisting victims of disasters, the service itself has had a profound impact on our members. During one of our missions to Pakistan in 2010, former Marines and SEALs delivering lifesaving aid realized that the villagers they were helping had never before seen Americans in that light. Those veterans were able to return to a part of the world that had taken something from them– a friend, a limb, a notion of innocence–and replace it with something entirely good. We suspect Peter was driven by a similar impulse.

Imagine if, over the coming decades, the United States could shift the mindset of rural villagers in Pakistan or Iraq or Yemen by sending highly skilled aid workers to serve and teach alongside them. Who better than military veterans to fill that role? How much farther could we get with an army of humanitarians than with ever expanding fleets of drones? With over 2 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is sitting on a reservoir of ready and able humanitarians. The challenge is finding a way to re-deploy them not as warriors, but as peacemakers.

To start with, the broader public should know that 92% of returning veterans want to continue serving their country. Tapping into this talent is a no-brainer. Privately funded organizations like Team Rubicon are a good start. With nearly 20,000 members, we have deployed to more than 70 disasters across the globe. But any comprehensive solution will require government support. To that end, agencies such as the Peace Corps and USAID should create fast-track programs that enable military veterans to transition seamlessly into humanitarian positions.

We understand the risks involved. One of us, a former Navy pilot, served as a human rights advocate in Afghanistan upon leaving the military. The other, a former Marine sniper who led teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq, helped lead combat medics and doctors down to Haiti four days after the earthquake. As veterans who served during wartime, and chose to return to the front lines as humanitarians, we appreciate better than most that our military is the world’s largest disaster response organization. More importantly, we know that we carry those skills into civilian life.

Every member of Team Rubicon signed up because of his or her time in uniform, not in spite of it. They too know the risks, but still ask “If not me, then who?” Peter Kassig did the same. His bravery and compassion bear witness to an entire generation of veterans who wish to serve humanity. We, his brothers in arms, long for the day when all might answer as he did, “Send me.”

Jake Wood is a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, CEO of Team Rubicon and author of Take Command. Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and COO of Team Rubicon.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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 conflict

Mandatory Palestine: What It Was and Why It Matters

"Mandated territories granted England include: Tanganyika Territory (formerly part of German East Africa), Mesopotamia and Palestine," wrote TIME in a brief news bit in 1923—a fleeting mention of a decision that would change the face of the Middle East as we know it

TIME

The map above is from a 1929 TIME article titled “Islam vs. Israel”—even though, as the map makes clear, in 1929 there was no country called Israel. (On a desktop, roll over to zoom; on a mobile device, click.)

Instead, there was Mandatory Palestine. The idea of a mandatory nation, using the common definition of the word, is an odd one: a country that’s obligatory, something that can’t be missed without fear of consequence. But the entity known as “Mandatory Palestine” existed for more than two decades—and, despite its strange-sounding name, had geopolitical consequences that can still be felt today.

The word “mandatory,” in this case, refers not to necessity but to the fact that a mandate caused it to exist. That document, the British Mandate for Palestine, was drawn up in 1920 and came into effect on this day in 1923, Sept. 29. Issued by the League of Nations, the Mandate formalized British rule over parts of the Levant (the region that comprises countries to the east of the Mediterranean), as part of the League’s goal of administrating the region’s formerly Ottoman nations “until such time as they are able to stand alone.” The Mandate also gave Britain the responsibility for creating a Jewish national homeland in the region.

The Mandate did not itself redraw borders—following the end of World War I, the European and regional powers had divvied up the former Ottoman Empire, with Britain acquiring what were then known as Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and Palestine (modern day Israel, Palestine and Jordan)—nor did it by any means prompt the drive to build a Jewish state in Palestine. Zionism, the movement to create a Jewish homeland, had emerged in the late 19th century, though it wasn’t exclusively focused on a homeland in Palestine. (Uganda was one of several alternatives proposed over the years.) In 1917, years before the Mandate was issued, the British government had formalized its support for a Jewish state in a public letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour known as the Balfour Declaration.

But by endorsing British control of the region with specific conditions, the League of Nations did help lay the groundwork for the modern Jewish state—and for the tensions between Jews and Arabs in the region that would persist for decades more. Though Israel would not exist for years to come, Jewish migrants flowed from Europe to Mandatory Palestine and formal Jewish institutions began to take shape amid a sometimes violent push to finalize the creation of a Jewish state. Meanwhile, the growing Jewish population exacerbated tensions with the Arab community and fueled conflicting Arab nationalist movements.

TIME reported on some of the tensions in the 1929 article from which the map above is drawn:

The fighting that began between Jews and Arabs at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall (TIME, Aug. 26) spread last week throughout Palestine, then inflamed fierce tribesmen of the Moslem countries which face the Holy Land (see map)…

…Sporadic clashes continuing at Haifa, Hebron and in Jerusalem itself, rolled up an estimated total of 196 dead for all Palestine. A known total of 305 wounded lay in hospitals. Speeding from England in a battleship the British High Commissioner to Palestine, handsome, brusque Sir John Chancellor, landed at Haifa, hurried to Jerusalem and sought to calm the general alarm by announcing that His Majesty’s Government were rushing more troops by sea from Malta and by land from Egypt, would soon control the situation

The clashes in Mandatory Palestine, which at times targeted the British or forced British intervention, began to take a toll on U.K. support for the Mandate. As early as 1929, some newspapers were declaring “Let Us Get Out of Palestine,” as TIME reported in the article on Jewish-Arab tensions. Though the Mandate persisted through World War II, support in war-weary Britain withered further. The U.K. granted Jordan independence in 1946 and declared that it would terminate its Mandate in Palestine on May 14, 1948. It left the “Question of Palestine” to the newly formed United Nations, which drafted a Plan of Partition that was approved by the U.N. General Assembly—but rejected by most of the Arab world—on Nov. 27, 1947.

As the day of May 14 came to an end, so did Mandatory Palestine. The region was far from settled, but the Mandate did accomplish at least one of its stated goals. Mere hours earlier, a new document had been issued: the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Read a 1930 cover story about the Zionist movement during the period of Mandatory Palestine: Religion: Zionists

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