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Islamic State Releases 49 Turkish Hostages While Fate of British Aid Worker Remains Unclear

An unconfirmed report claimed the Islamic State may have beheaded a second British hostage Saturday, the same day the militants released 49 other hostages unharmed.

by Liz Fields
Sep 20 2014, 7:35pm

Photo by Hussein Malla/AP

An unconfirmed report claims the Islamic State may have beheaded a second British hostage Saturday, less than a week after the execution of another UK citizen, and on the same day the militants released 49 Turkish hostages from Iraq unharmed.

Last week, Alan Henning appeared toward the end of the execution video of fellow British aid worker David Haines. The executioner, who speaks with a London-accent, threatened that the father of two would be next.

Henning, a 47-year-old taxi driver, left his home in Eccles, England, at least three times last year, to provide humanitarian aid in Syria's bloody civil war, where he worked for the group AID4SYRIA. During his fourth trip in December 2013, Henning was captured near the city of Al-Dana. VICE News could not immediately confirm the reports of Henning's execution Saturday. The image accompanying the latest alleged execution announcement is not new and should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.

The video of Haines' beheading released September 13 was condemned by British Prime Minister David Cameron. But the UK has so far resisted further involvement with an international coalition to fight the IS in Iraq and Syria, despite the threats to Henning's life.

Islamic State beheads British hostage David Haines. Read more here.

On Thursday, British Muslims and scholars led the outcry against Henning's execution and appealed for his release, saying his death would go against the teaching of the holy Qur'an.

Similar videos of the executions of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff formed a series of events leading up to President Barack Obama's announcement earlier this month of a coordinated strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the militant group, which has overrun vast swathes of land in Iraq and Syria since June.

The unconfirmed report of Henning's execution came the same day the militants released 49 Turkish hostages, seemingly unharmed, and under mysterious circumstances, 102 days after they were captured in Iraq.

Video reportedly shows Islamic State beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff. Read more here.

Turkish authorities have refused to elaborate on the details of the handover, which was conducted without gunfire or incident. No ransom or prisoner exchange deal was made, according to local media.

"After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back," Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

IS militants kidnapped the hostages, among them two young children, from the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11, after capturing the city as part of its violent campaign to claim territory across Iraq's northern and western region and establish an Islamic caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria.

All hostages appeared to be in good health as they stepped off Davutoglu's private plane in Turkey's capital of Ankara on Saturday, wearing fresh clothes and relieved smiles. A crowd of family and friends waved flags as they waited to greet them.

Islamic State video is the latest in worldwide propaganda wars. Read more here.

The safe arrival of the hostages was welcomed but also raised a host of questions about the circumstances of their release, especially following the recent spate of videotaped beheadings.

The Iraqi government could not provide any more information on the release, and the hostages were also tight-lipped following the rescue. A few reported that IS militants threatened them, but they did not describe any serious mistreatment.

The IS militants "treated us a little better because we are Muslims. But we weren't that comfortable," former hostage Alparslan Yel said at a press conference. "There was a war going on."

So far, Turkey has been reluctant to join an international coalition fighting the IS in Iraq and Syria for fear of putting the hostages at risk. Hesitance from the country's leaders has strayed from the general support the US has received from its Middle Eastern allies.

In Photos: Embedded with the Islamic Front in Aleppo. Read more here.

On Saturday, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told the Associated Press that he would give any support needed to fight the IS, short of sending soldiers on the ground.

Other countries in the Middle East and Gulf, including Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have all agreed to join Obama's "coordinated military campaign" against the IS.

France became the first US ally on Friday to launch military airstrikes against IS targets near Mosul, killing dozens of militants. The US has been conducting its own airstrikes since early August, which has helped Iraqi forces reclaim vital territory, including the strategically important Mosul Dam.

France's military struck a target, described as Islamic State weapons and fuel depot, near to Mosul on September 19.

"We are facing throat-cutters," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during a UN Security Council meeting convened to support the Iraqi government's fight against militants. "They rape, crucify and decapitate. They use cruelty as a means of propaganda. Their aim is to erase borders and to eradicate the rule of law and civil society."

In his weekly address Saturday, Obama confirmed that "Over 40 countries have offered to help the broad campaign against ISIL so far, from training and equipment, to humanitarian relief, to flying combat missions."

US President Barack Obama spoke on the decision to train Syrian opposition fighters and conduct strikes against Islamic State targets in his latest weekly address, released September 20.

Obama also received a major victory at home this week after Congress showed rare bipartisan support in uniting to approve his plan to arm and train "moderate" Syrian rebels to help fight the IS.

Obama has repeatedly said that no American troops will be placed back on the ground in Iraq, although additional "security" personnel have been deployed in a strictly advisory capacity.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields