ISIS is ready to take another victim.

Multiple news outlets are reporting that ISIS has threatened the life of a third (living) hostage, this time a 26 year-old female American aid worker who was kidnapped last year during a humanitarian mission to Syria. (A representative of the family asked that she not be identified.) Militants have demanded $6.6 million and a reciprocal release of prisoners in exchange for her return.

Via ABC News:

She is the third of at least four Americans who were known to be held by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. American journalist James Foley was executed by the group in a video that appeared online last week. Another writer, Steven Sotloff, was seen alive but under duress in the same footage.

In addition to the multi-million dollar ransom, the terror group has also demanded that the U.S. release Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT-trained neuroscientist who was convicted by the U.S. in 2010 of trying to kill U.S. officials two years before, according to a supporter of Siddiqui who has been in contact with the hostage’s family.

This isn’t the first time ISIS has made a hefty ransom demand. Reports following the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley revealed that ISIS offered the United States the option of paying a multimillion dollar ransom in exchange for his return.

In contrast with the French, the Spanish, the Germans, the Italians, and the Swiss, the United States does not negotiate with foreign aggressors via the payment of ransom. However, this contrast between the United States (and Britain, though Britain has negotiated in the past) and other western powers, coupled with the sheer amount of money some European countries have handed over in exchange for their hostages, has caused tension:

Kidnapping Europeans has become the main source of revenue for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which have earned at least $125 million in ransom payments in the past five years alone, according to an investigation by The Times. Although ISIS was recently expelled from Al Qaeda and abides by different rules, recently freed prisoners said that their captors were well aware of what ransoms had been paid on behalf of European citizens held by Qaeda affiliates as far afield as Africa, indicating that they were hoping to abide by the same business plan.

U.S. policy is based on the belief that paying ransoms only emboldens terrorists, but some worry that this will lead to more Americans dead at the hands of terrorists. Adding to the tension caused by this latest hostage situation is the “known unknown” of the affect American surveillance and potential action in Syria will affect how ISIS agents choose to engage American interests.

ISIS agents claimed that James Foley was executed because of American attacks against ISIS, and as of last week, 54% of Americans approved of Barack Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes against Iraqi insurgents. But what happens to that number if ISIS decides to publicly execute Steven Sotloff, or the unnamed American aid worker? The Obama Administration is sensitive to optics above all else, and the chances of their greatest hope for the Presidency in 2016 rests on not only how she reacts to emerging foreign policy concerns, but also on how the public reacts.

If the Obama Administration loses focus on its mission to destroy ISIS, we’re going to see a lot more than three dead hostages.


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