More: Paris prosecutor Francois Molins identifies Frenchman in Islamic State video as Maxime Hauchard; says Hauchard has been on the radar of French authorities since he left for Syria in 2013 under cover of humanitarian action - @AP
Defense Secretary Hagel on death of American aid worker: 'On behalf of all the men and women of the Department of Defense, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter, who time and again volunteered his service during times of war - first as an Army Ranger in Iraq, and later as a devoted humanitarian, providing aid to victims of the conflict in Syria. Like his fellow veterans of the 9/11 Generation, his strong desire to continue making a difference in the world after serving in uniform - to continue leading a life of purpose - is an inspiration to us all' - statement
Statement from family of Peter Kassig: 'We are heartbroken to learn that our son, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, has lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people and his desire to ease their suffering. Our heart also goes out to the families of the Syrians who lost their lives, along with our son' - @kassigfamily
Editor's note: Peter Kassig, a former US Army Ranger, was providing medical aid to Syrians fleeing the country's civil war when he was captured inside Syria in October 2013. His friends say he converted to Islam in captivity and took the first name Abdul-Rahman. If confirmed, he will be the 5th Westerner to have been beheaded by Islamic State militants. - Tricia
Editor's note: Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper is reporting that the Islamic State beheading suspect known as 'Jihadi John' may have been injured in an airstrike on an Iraqi town close to the Syrian border. A British Foreign Office spokesperson was unable to confirm the report. - Jimmy
Syria (/ˈsɪ.rɪə/ SIH-ree-ə ; Arabic: سوريا or سورية, Sūriyā or Sūrīyah), officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. Its capital Damascus is among the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, it is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including the majority Arab population, Alawite, Druze, Sunni and Christian. Other ethnic groups includes; Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Yezidi and Turks. Sunni Arabs make up the largest population group in Syria.
In English, the name "Syria" was formerly synonymous with the Levant (known in Arabic as al-Sham) while the modern state encompasses the sites of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt.
The modern Syrian state was established after World War I as a French mandate, and represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Arab Levant. It gained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was tumultuous, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949–1971. Between 1958-61, Syria entered a brief union with Egypt, which was terminated by a military coup. Syria was under Emergency Law from 1963 to 2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered to be non-democratic. Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000 and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1970 to 2000.
Syria is a member of one international organization other than the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement; it is currently suspended from the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and self-suspended from the Union for the Mediterranean. Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in civil war in the wake of uprisings (considered an extension of the Arab Spring, the mass movement of revolutions and protests in the Arab world) against Assad and the Ba'athist government. An alternative government was formed by the opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, in March 2012. Representatives of this government were subsequently invited to take up Syria's seat at the Arab League.