SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – Islamic State militants beheaded a Lebanese soldier who was one of 19 captured by hardline Syrian Islamists when they seized a Lebanese border town for few days this month, a video posted on social media showed on Saturday.
The soldier, recognizable as Ali al-Sayyed, a Sunni Muslim from north Lebanon, was shown blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back, writhing and kicking the dusty ground while a militant announces he will be killed. Another militant then beheads him.
The Lebanese army declined to comment but security and Islamic State sources confirmed the latest beheading.
Hours later, the group posted a second video showing nine other soldiers begging for their lives, urging their families to take to the streets in the next three days to demand the release of Islamist prisoners as a condition to escape al-Sayyed’s fate.
Earlier this month, several Syrian groups, including Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front battled the Lebanese army after the arrest of rebel commander Emad Gomaa in the border town of Arsal. Gomaa is an al-Nusra commander who switched affiliation to Islamic State but remained popular among al-Nusra fighters.
The militants seized Arsal for five days before withdrawing to a mountainous border region, taking 19 captive soldiers with them. They have demanded the release of Gomaa and several Islamists jailed since a 2007 insurrection by an al Qaeda-inspired group at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon.
Islamic State, which declared a “caliphate” in June in parts of Iraq and Syria under its control, has been cited as a major security threat by Western governments since posting a video in August of the beheading of U.S journalist James Foley.
US CAPTIVES PROVE CHALLENGE FOR OBAMA
After Islamic State’s beheading of journalist James Foley, President Barack Obama’s administration is making little headway in efforts to secure the release of three other Americans held by the insurgent group in Syria, officials said.
Journalist Steven Sotloff and two others whom Reuters is not naming are among fewer than 10 Westerners that Islamic State (IS) is holding in kidnappings that until recently were aimed at simply raising ransoms, they said. The U.S. government has said it does not pay ransoms or negotiate with IS.
Washington has contacted about two dozen countries for help in freeing the three, but no foreign government appears to have influence over or even significant contact with IS, which has declared an Islamic caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
“What we’ve found is that ISIS isn’t responsive” to outreach, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity and using an alternate acronym for the group.
Another administration official said Washington was working with other Western countries whose citizens are being held hostage, and with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others in the region thought by the United States to possibly have influence with the groups Al-Nusrah and IS.
The hostages’ fate received little public attention until Islamic State posted an online video on Aug. 19 showing Foley’s beheading. It now presents a frustrating challenge for Obama.
Islamic State “is far more difficult to deal with” than Iran or the militant group Hezbollah, which also took Americans captive, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and White House official now at the Brookings Institution think-tank. The group “wants to terrorize Americans, it’s not really interested in deals.”
WHITE HOUSE INVOLVEMENT
U.S. officials and supporters of the remaining hostages requested that most details about them and efforts to free them be withheld.
One is Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist kidnapped in Syria in August 2013. At the end of the video depicting Foley’s murder, a militant holding Sotloff threatened his life.
Sotloff’s mother Shirley appealed on Wednesday in a videotaped message to Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for her son’s release.
One of the other U.S. hostages is a female aid worker, age 26, for whom Islamic State has demanded $6.6 million in ransom, according to ABC News.
Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, has been “very deeply involved in this,” the senior U.S. official said. Monaco, along with the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been in contact with hostages’ families, the official said.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said, “ The Administration has had regular interactions with the families of those Americans who have been held hostage in Syria since the kidnapping of their loved ones. These interactions included representatives from all the relevant agencies, including the Department of State, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, and the White House.”
Obama authorized a covert raid in Syria in July to rescue Foley and other American hostages, but they were not at the site where they were thought to be held. Another rescue attempt would be risky for U.S. special forces and the hostages.
The American diplomatic effort also is aimed at persuading European countries not to pay ransoms, officials said.
U.S. and European officials have said that France, Spain and Italy have tolerated or facilitated ransom payments for citizens held in Syria. Islamic State released numerous European journalists this year, including two Spaniards in March and four Frenchmen in April.
The French government has denied a news report that it paid a ransom to free the four. Spain’s foreign ministry has not commented on the matter.
The U.S. policy of refusing to pay ransoms to discourage further hostage-taking “is as close as we are likely to come to governments influencing ISIS on the matter of seizing hostages”, said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA analyst now at Georgetown University.
U.S. officials have said that Qatar played a critical role in persuading a rival group in Syria, the official al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, to free American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, whom it had been holding since 2012.
Qatar is working to help free other Americans held captive in Syria, a Gulf source told Reuters, but U.S. officials said the Qatari government has little if any leverage with Islamic State.