BEIRUT, Sept 3, (AFP): Brutal beheadings recorded on video by the jihadist Islamic State are intended to terrorise the group’s enemies, but are also angering and alienating the Muslims the group claims to represent. On Tuesday, the jihadist group released a new video purporting to show the beheading of Steven Sotloff, the second US journalist to be decapitated by its fighters in a fortnight.
The video was described as “sickening” by the United States and provoked widespread anger as well as fear — which experts say is precisely the group’s intention. For Rita Katz, director of extremist monitoring group SITE, releasing videos of the beheadings of Sotloff and journalist James Foley before him “has a straight-forward purpose from an analytical standpoint: intimidation”. “The brutality demonstrated in the video says, ‘Don’t mess with us.’” The Islamic State claim “to be the only ‘true Muslims’ and resort to murder and mayhem as a psychological tactic to terrorise other people,” said Asma Afsaruddin, a professor at Indiana University’s religious studies department. Beheading has become almost a calling card for IS, which has used the method on opponents ranging from Syrian and Iraqi government troops to activists who have opposed its abuses. As well as the two US journalists, in the last two weeks IS has also released videos of a Lebanese soldier and a Kurdish fighter being beheaded.
The method has clearly been effective in spreading fear: when the group advanced in Iraq this year, hundreds of thousands fled in terror. As a tactic, decapitation by jihadists is not new — extremists beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. It also became a favoured method of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate, a precursor of today’s Islamic State, under the leadership of militant Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. With Zarqawi’s death in a US raid in Iraq in 2006 and the weakening of his group, its use declined. But with the emergence of the Islamic State, which has broken with al-Qaeda and declared its own Islamic “caliphate” in Syrian and Iraqi territory, decapitation has once again become a potent tool.