INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The parents of an Indiana aid worker threatened with beheading by the Islamic State group rejected suggestions that their son converted to Islam to save himself Monday, saying his interest in Eastern religions began long before he traveled to the Middle East.
Ed and Paula Kassig told The Associated Press that their son, who has changed his name from Peter to Abdul-Rahman since his conversion, was inspired by the activism of his grandfather, a pastor and advocate for Muslims in the Middle East for many years. They have no doubt that his conversion to Islam was a personal choice, not one driven by his captivity.
“When our son makes a commitment to something, no holds barred. It’s 150 percent. He goes at it with every fiber of his being. He converted totally,” Ed Kassig said.
The Kassigs said their son began exploring Eastern religions while in school and initiated his conversion to Islam before being taken hostage, observing the fast of Ramadan three months before his capture on Oct. 1, 2013.
Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who was held with Abdul-Rahman Kassig for several months, said he did not believe Kassig had been coerced into embracing Islam.
“He had been a virtual Muslim already. He had been living among Muslims” for some time, he said Monday.
Paula and Ed Kassig said they stayed silent for a year after their son was detained because his captors had vowed to kill the 26-year-old aid worker immediately if they went public.
“We were under a veil of secrecy for a long time,” Ed Kassig said.
But once a militant threatened his beheading in an Oct. 3 video, in retaliation for U.S. bombing attacks, “It was like a dam broke,” he said.
Since then, the couple has taken to YouTube, Twitter and traditional media outlets to spread the word of their son’s work with Syrian refugees and plead for mercy.
Ed Kassig said the militants holding their son have made “absolutely unattainable demands” but would not elaborate. He said he and his wife have tried to reach their son’s captors to open lines of communication but have not been successful.
Paula Kassig told NBC’s “Today” show that the couple received an audio recording of their son a couple of weeks ago in which he said he feared his time was running out.
The couple on Monday also released additional excerpts from a letter written by their son and delivered by a former hostage.
“I hope that this all has a happy ending but it may very well be coming down to the wire here,” he wrote.
The Kassigs said they’ve received support from around the world, especially the Muslim community.
“It makes us feel so much stronger. It lifts my hopes that he knows that he’s loved and that we are all praying for him,” Paula Kassig said.
Associated Press writer Ken Kusmer contributed to this story.