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‘Maybe I Will Live and Maybe I Will Die’: New ISIS Video Has Small Glimmer of Hope

The trio of videos released by the Islamic State in recent weeks have followed the same grim pattern — a helpless and unarmed Westerner is forced to kneel in front of a masked militant who threatens the United States and Britain before calmly beheading the captive — but the group’s newest video contains a small ...

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The trio of videos released by the Islamic State in recent weeks have followed the same grim pattern — a helpless and unarmed Westerner is forced to kneel in front of a masked militant who threatens the United States and Britain before calmly beheading the captive — but the group’s newest video contains a small glimmer of hope that the hostage, British journalist John Cantlie, might potentially make it out alive.

To be clear, the roughly three-minute video makes for extremely difficult viewing. Cantlie, who was captured in Syria in 2012, appears wearing the orange jumpsuit that has become synonymous with the outfits worn by American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley and British aid worker David Haines before their brutal murders. Speaking directly to the camera, Cantlie promises to reveal the truth about how the media is dragging their respective countries back into another unwinnable war. In the "next few programs," Cantlie says that he will expose how European governments negotiate for their hostages while the United States and Britain refuse to do so.

Cantlie, who according to New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi was captured while traveling in the same car as the American journalist James Foley, appears gaunt in the video and is clearly reading from a script. He states that he has been forced to make the video, but says that "seeing as I’ve been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose."

"Maybe I will live and maybe I will die, but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify," Cantlie says.

While European governments have negotiated for hostages captured by Islamist militants and regularly paid multimillion-dollar ransoms, the United States and Britain have maintained a hard-line policy of refusing to strike such deals. In the video, Cantlie criticizes this policy. "I’ll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State, and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other European country," Cantlie says. "They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home, while the British and Americans were left behind."

In this sense, Thursday’s video contains a shred of hope for Cantlie’s future. In recent weeks, Islamic State militants have released similar videos featuring captured American journalists, also dressed in orange jumpsuits. Those videos ended with the beheading of Foley and Sotloff. By contrast, this latest video expresses a degree of frustration with the British and American refusal to negotiate for their hostages and suggests he could be freed if the governments abandoned their long-standing policies and engaged in talks, though that seems like an exceedingly remote possibility.

Unlike the previous videos, Cantlie’s appearance does not appear to be primarily aimed at American military actions in Iraq. Both the Foley and Sotloff videos ended with demands that the United States cease its military activities. If they did not, a masked militant threatened to execute another hostage. The Cantlie video contains no such threat.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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