LONDON—The fourth sickening act of an ISIS executioner was no less shocking than the first. Alan Henning, a 47-year-old father of two, was murdered in the same ritualistic manner as three Westerners before him, made to kneel in the sand and repeat out loud the twisted logic used by Islamist thugs to justify his death.
This time the masked killer took another cowardly step into anonymity apparently speaking in a voice that had been manipulated to disguise it. If it was the same criminal who had already killed two Americans and another British man, however, it was far too late for him to conceal his identity and change his ultimate fate.
The family of an American aid worker will be next to face the trauma of having their child paraded by ISIS, after Peter Kassig was shown at the end of the video and threatened with death.
Henning, an avuncular taxi driver from Salford in northern England, had witnessed the suffering in Syria on television and decided to offer the only thing he had: his driving skills. By joining a group of his Muslim friends on a 3,000-mile overland drive to the Syrian border, he sacrificed what would have been a final Christmas with his family.
His horrific murder comes on the eve of Eid al Adha, one of the most important periods of celebration for genuine Muslims, millions of whom have embarked on pilgrimages called hajj. Among the first to condemn the killing was the Islamic Society of Britain, which said: “ISIL is a vile and evil death cult, killing an innocent man who went to help others, during the sacred days of hajj.”
In the graphic video, which shows the moment his throat was cut, Henning was forced to blame the British government for his death. “Because of our parliament’s decision to attack the Islamic State, I, as a member of the British public, will now pay the price for that decision,” he said.
He remained motionless in the next shot but the fear of what was to follow was etched on his face. The bloody denouement his wife had dreaded had come to pass. Earlier this week she pleaded with ISIS to uphold the verdict of a makeshift Sharia court, which ruled that he was not a spy. “Surely those who wish to be seen as a state will act in a statesmanlike way by showing mercy and providing clemency,” she said.
Despite what she feared would follow, Barbara Henning continued to insist that her husband had not made a mistake by traveling into a war zone carrying nappies, food, and baby milk. “Some say wrong time, wrong place. Alan was volunteering with his Muslim friends to help the people of Syria. He was in the right place doing the right thing.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who has ordered British fighter jets to attack ISIS in Iraq, pledged to hunt down the killers of a man whose plight has gripped the watching nation back home. Henning’s neigborhood has been covered in yellow ribbons of support, multi-faith vigils have been held across the country, and hundreds have rallied to the side of his family.
“My thoughts and prayers tonight are with Alan’s wife Barbara, their children, and all those who loved him. Alan had gone to Syria to help get aid to people of all faiths in their hour of need,” he said. “The brutal murder… shows just how barbaric and repulsive these terrorists are.”
ISIS’s next potential victim is a former U.S. Army Ranger who returned to the Middle East after a tour of duty in Iraq because he wanted to see firsthand the affect of Western intervention in the region. Kassig traveled to Beirut during spring break while he was studying at Butler University in Indianapolis. Inspired by volunteer work with refugees in Lebanon, he quit his studies to set up a small humanitarian organization dedicated to smuggling medical supplies, food, and clothing into Syria.
Asked about his aspirations in a TIME magazine interview last year, Kassig said he dreamed of his little aid organization, Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA), blossoming into a major player with the capacity to help huge numbers of people. “I certainly hope to have seen SERA grow into an international relief organization capable of helping hundreds of thousands of people around the world. I would also like to be able to say that I was able to give something back to everyone who helped along the way,” he said.
Instead, he is kneeling in the desert at the feet of a killer. “Obama you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham [Syria], which keeps on striking our people,” the murderer says in the latest video. “So it’s only right that we continue to strike the necks of your people.”