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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Friday, January 21, 2005

New terror tactic: 'Sidewalk beheadings' hit Iraq

At least seven victims reported executed in public during the last week

By J.M. Berger

Updated: 1/23/2005, 4:25 p.m. EST

sidewalk beheadingWithin a matter of days, Iraqi terrorist groups have released three Internet videos showing the public execution of four hostages.

Two additional incidents of public execution were reported within the last week, involving three more victims, but these have apparently not yet been released on video.

The tactics have been used by different factions operating in different areas, suggesting a widespread decision to adopt the tactic as the Iraqi elections draw near.

Two hostages were beheaded on a public sidewalk in a video released by Iraqi insurgents Friday, and two more public beheading incidents were reported. On Sunday, two videos were released showing public gunshot executions, one by the Zarqawi group and the other by Ansar al-Sunnah.

In the "sidewalk beheading" video, the two men, apparently Iraqis, were shown kneeling in front of a black flag with yellow Arabic writing, answering questions from a captor offscreen. The men were then taken to outdoors location and beheaded with knives while onlookers chanted in support. Unlike in previous videos, they did not display any identification papers.

The two victims said they were employed at a U.S. military base in Ramadi.

A logo associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist network was embedded in the video. The 10-minute video was announced on an Internet forum known to be used by Islamic terrorist groups. It was stored on Web servers known to be used by Iraqi insurgent sympathizers.

Click here for images from the video. Warning: This material is graphic and may offend or disturb viewers. Discretion is advised.

All the videos referenced in this story have been obtained by INTELWIRE, and they can be viewed by members of Click here for information about subscribing to INTELFILES.

The "sidewalk beheading" video was first reported by INTELFILES, and subsequent reports from Reuters and CNN translated some portions of the dialogue. According to CNN:

In the video, the two men tell their kidnappers that they drove truckloads of food and supplies to an American base in the central Iraqi town of Ramadi.

The men said they lived in the Sadr City section of Baghdad and worked for a Lebanese company. While they admitted staying on a U.S. base for two weeks, the two said they were lured into the $150-a-month job not knowing they would be working for Americans.

The two men stood -- blindfolded with hands bound behind their backs -- in front of an Arabic banner bearing the name "al Qaeda in Iraq," a group linked to al-Zarqawi that has been responsible for numerous beheadings and other violence.

There were two other reported incidents of public beheadings in Iraq this week. In one incident, an Iraqi soldier was pulled from his car and beheaded in broad daylight. A note attached to his body warned other soldiers to quit, according to Reuters.

In a second incident, two Iraqi Shi'ites were beheaded and their bodies left on a sidewal, according to Reuters. A note identified them as Shi'ite Muslims. It's possible this incident is the same one released on video today, but that has not been confirmed.

In light of the approaching elections, the new tactic sends a powerful message to Iraqis intending to vote, especially in light of a video released just this week showing the gunshot execution of two Iraqi election workers.

By targeting Iraqi nationals (and Shi'ites in particular), Zarqawi's al Qaeda affiliate can strongly intimidate potential voters. The fact that onlookers cheered the attack rather than trying to intervene will only increase the fear factor.

The beheading videos have been extraordinarily effective in reaching the Iraqi public. Many of the videos are sold on DVDs in local markets.

Word of mouth stemming from the public beheadings will have an even greater impact, especially in Ramadi, where much of the violence has been concentrated. According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. has stepped up security in Ramadi. Public beheadings will not instill confidence among Iraqi citizens that these security enhancements are likely to keep them safe on Election Day, Jan. 30.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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