The Islamic State militant group is holding hostage a 26-year-old American humanitarian aid worker in Syria, the third American known to have been kidnapped by the militant group.
The Islamic State group recently threatened to kill American hostages to avenge the crushing airstrikes in Iraq against militants advancing on Mount Sinjar and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
The 26-year-old woman was captured last year while working with three humanitarian groups in Syria. A representative for the family and US officials asked that the woman not be identified out of fear for her safety. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the issue publicly.
- James Foley recalled 'life and death' moment during capture in Libya
- Abbott sickened by journalist beheading
The terror group is demanding US$6.6 million and the release of US prisoners for the life of the young woman.
In addition to the multi-million dollar ransom, the terror group has also demanded that the US release Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT-trained neuroscientist who was convicted by the US in 2010 of trying to kill US officials two years before, according to a supporter of Siddiqui who has been in contact with the hostage’s family.
Siddiqui’s release has been a regular demand of groups critical of US policy in the Middle East and Southwest Asia
Mauri Saalakhan of the Peace and Justice Foundation spoke on behalf of the Siddiqui family who urged ISIS and extremists groups to release their captives unharmed.
“The most important message that I could convey to ISIS or whoever it is that’s holding these innocent people captive abroad is that at the end of the day, this type of approach in response to an injustice that you feel, is not only not the inappropriate way to go, but, properly understood, it is a violation of the tenets of the faith that we claim to believe in,” he said.
More than a week ago, freelance journalist James Foley of Rochester, New Hampshire, was beheaded by the Islamic State group, which kidnapped him in November 2012. Foley, 40, had worked in a number of conflict zones across the Mideast, including Iraq, Libya and Syria. In northern Syria on assignment for Agence France-Press and the GlobalPost, the car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control.
The Islamic State video of Foley's beheading also showed another of the missing American journalists, Steven Sotloff, and warned he would be killed next if US airstrikes continued. US officials believe the video was made days before its release and have grown increasingly worried about Sotloff's fate.
Other American hostages have been held by other militant groups, including Peter Curtis from Boston, who was recently released by al-Nusra Front, a rival Sunni extremist group. Another US freelance journalist, Austin Tice of Houston, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be held by the same organisation. Tice was working for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other media outlets when he was kidnapped.
There were reports that another American, Douglas McArthur McCain of San Diego, was killed in Syria. The circumstances of his death were unclear.
A relative, Kenneth McCain, said the State Department had called his family to inform them that Douglas McCain had been killed in Syria.
"We do not know if he was fighting anyone," said Kenneth McCain, who hung up before answering how he is related to Douglas.
Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman, said US officials are in contact with the family in providing consular assistance. "As you know there is typically a process that has to be gone through before any confirmation can be made and certainly, out of respect for the family, we won't be adding any more comment at this time," she said.
The Islamic State militant group is seeking to create a caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq. The militant group is so ruthless in its attacks against all people they consider heretics or infidels that it has been disowned by al-Qaida's leaders.
President Barack Obama said in a speech in North Carolina on Wednesday, that "America does not forget" and vowed justice for Foley's murder.
In its annual report last November, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimated at least 30 journalists have been kidnapped or have disappeared in Syria — held and threatened with death by extremists or taken captive by gangs seeking ransom.
The CPJ described the widespread seizure of journalists as unprecedented and largely unreported by news organisations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help to negotiate the captives' release.
The group reported 52 journalists have been killed since Syria's civil war began in early 2011 and documented at least 24 other journalists who disappeared earlier this year but are now safe.
Separately, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders last fall cited higher figures, saying at least 60 "news providers" are being detained and more than 110 have been killed.
Latest news headlines