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Did airstrike kill ISIS executioner 'Jihadi John'?
01:25 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The victims were captured by the brutal militant group ISIS

They were killed in gory beheadings videotaped for the world to see

CNN  — 

They were journalists and aid workers, admired and beloved by their family and friends.

They all had two things in common. They risked their lives to go to the Middle East either to write about war or save victims of war. And they died at the hands of the brutal militant group ISIS, most of them in beheadings videotaped for the world to see. Just before their deaths, they faced a sneering, ruthless ISIS mouthpiece nicknamed “Jihadi John.”

Steven Sotloff

Steven Sotloff’s diverse passions ranged from video games to the Dave Matthews Band and Miles Davis.

The U.S. journalist also loved reporting. So much so, he traveled to a Syrian war zone thousands of miles away to document the bloodshed and chaos for the world.

“He was an incredible writer,” said Tim Smith, a college friend who kept in touch with him. “I know reporting on an international level is what he always wanted to do.”

Sotloff disappeared during a reporting trip to Syria in August 2013. His fixer said masked militants jumped out of cars and captured them.

What followed was a dark, twisted tale of unknown whereabouts and family heartbreak. It ended with the release of an ISIS video showing his beheading last year.

The Florida native was 31.

James Foley

James Foley was a mix of courage, generosity and service.

He believed in showing humanity amid the horror of war. And he had various platforms to showcase his passion.

When he wasn’t writing for newspapers all over the world, he was recording videos for media outlets or appearing on television to talk about his passion.

Before delving into journalism, he taught reading and writing to inmates in Chicago, friends said.

Three years ago, he decided to venture into Syria. The fact that he had been detained in a Libyan jail before that did not stop him.

“I believe that front-line journalism is important,” he said at the time.

Foley was abducted while on a reporting trip in northern Syria in November 2012. He was not heard from until last year, when an ISIS video showed his beheading.

The New Hampshire native was 41.

David Haines

David Haines, a British aid worker, was “just another bloke” in Syria making a difference, his brother said.

Before he went to the Middle East, he was in the military and later joined the United Nations, where he dove into humanitarian work.

“David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles,” said Mike Haines

His charity work later took him to Syria, where he was abducted in March 2013 near a refugee camp in Atmeh.

Haines was beheaded last year in an ISIS video post that described his killing as “a message to the allies of America.”

The 44-year-old had a wife and two children.

Alan Henning

The British taxi driver was among a group of volunteers who traveled to Syria two years ago to deliver aid to people affected by the devastating civil war.

A few days after his arrival, the day after Christmas, Alan Henning was abducted by gunmen.

His family, together with Muslim leaders around the world, publicly implored ISIS militants to free him. Those pleas were ignored.

In October last year, ISIS released a video showing his beheading. His family said it was “numb with grief” with the news of his killing.

“There’s just sadness. It reminds you of the loss of Alan and just hoping it’s closure for the family,” his friend Louise Woodward-Styles said of Jihadi John’s possible death.

“I don’t think he deserves the attention that his apparent death is causing. I think he was a coward and he doesn’t deserve any publicity.”

Henning, a native of northern England, was 47.

Peter Kassig

Peter Kassig first went to the Middle East as a U.S. Army Ranger. He returned as a medical worker, intent on saving war victims.

He traipsed across the region, including Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.

“We each get one life …we get one shot at this and we don’t get any do-overs, and for me, it was time to put up or shut up,” he said in an interview with CNN at the time.

Kassig was captured by ISIS in 2013 and held for over a year.

In November last year, he was beheaded and the video posted online.

Kassig, who converted to Islam in captivity, also went by the name Abdul-Rahman Kassig.

The Indiana native was 26.

Kenji Goto

Kenji Goto had every reason to stay home in Japan. A successful career. An adoring mother. A loving wife. A pair of young daughters, one of them just 3 weeks old.

Yet, in his mind, he had to go into war-torn Syria. He felt compelled to tell the stories of war in all its trauma, complexity and humanity.

He packed his bags and headed toward the Islamist extremist group’s de facto capital of Raqaa.

An ISIS video released this year showed his decapitated body months after his capture.

The 47-year-old was a native of Sendai, Japan.

CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.