LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. counter-terrorism officials backed negotiations with two prominent jihadi clerics in a failed attempt to save the life of an American hostage who was later beheaded by Islamic State militants, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.
Citing emails, the Guardian said talks with the spiritual leaders of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, aimed at releasing hostage Peter Kassig began in mid-October and ran for several weeks with the knowledge of the FBI.
U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment on the newspaper report.
Islamic State militants beheaded Kassig, 26, in November. U.S. President Barack Obama said at the time that the killing was “an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity”.
The Guardian said the unsuccessful initiative to save Kassig, an aid worker, was the work of a New York lawyer, Stanley Cohen, who has represented Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and members of Hamas in U.S. courts.
Cohen persuaded senior clerics aligned with al Qaeda to intervene with ISIS on behalf of Kassig, the newspaper said. FBI staff confirmed that senior officials at its headquarters were kept abreast of Cohen’s actions, the Guardian said.
The bureau confirmed it would pay $24,000 of expenses incurred by Cohen, the newspaper said. An FBI spokesman cited by the newspaper said the bureau’s top priority was the safe return of U.S. citizens and that it rarely discussed the details of its efforts in public.
The Guardian said it had provided the Kassig family with the details of the negotiation effort before publication but that the family had declined to respond.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Gareth Jones