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An American aid worker threatened with beheading by ISIS militants in Syria was scared but trying to remain hopeful as other hostages were led away to freedom or death, a former cellmate said Friday.

In an interview with NBC News, Nicolas Henin said fellow hostage Abdul-Rahman Kassig had little choice but to remain optimistic.

“If you have no hope whatsoever, you just can't survive,” said Henin, one of four French journalists released from captivity in April.

“It was surely very difficult for him to have seen us leaving,” Henin said. “But still it means that something is going on and something positive so it helps … but then to see people taken off the cell to be killed must … be extremely hard.”

Kassig, 26, served with the military in Iraq before becoming an aid worker in Lebanon and Syria. He was captured in Syria in October 2013. An ISIS propaganda video released on Oct. 1 - which showed the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning - pictured Kassig and threatened to execute the American next.

Henin described Kassig as “probably a bit lost but extremely sincere in his engagement" In Syria.

“He arrived in the region with a lot of curiosity and he decided to stay out of good will," Henin said. "He just realized that the people of the region needed help, that they were living in a humanitarian drama. Maybe it was not realistic ... considering the level of danger he put himself in, but at the end of the day he was extremely sincere.”

Kassig changed his name from Peter to Abdul-Rahman when he converted to Islam in captivity - a move Henin said the American explained as “the best way to give him strength to deal with the difficulties of this captivity.”

“He was always trying to learn more about Islam. He was a kind of perfectionist so he was always willing to... looking for a way to be a better Muslim,” Henin said, adding that Kassig was “optimistic that his family would understand his conversion because of the religious background and because of the general level of trust” between them.

Henin recalled that the former Army Ranger had a sweet tooth and would exchange his food rations with fellow hostages in order to get candy and jam.

“We were sharing all of our life … there is no privacy when you are stuck together in a room like this 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Henin explained. "We were having meals together … just having discussions about everything life, hopes, expectations. [Kassig] he told us he was going hunting and fishing with his father in the beautiful landscape of Indiana where he lives.”



- Alastair Jamieson