Beheading video

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A beheading video is a form of propaganda or snuff video in which hostages are graphically decapitated.[1] It is often employed by groups seeking to instill shock or terror into a population, whilst beheading has been a widely employed public execution method since the ancient Greeks and Romans,[2] videos of this type only began to arise in 2002 with the beheading of Daniel Pearl and the growth of the internet in the information age which allowed groups to anonymously publish these videos for public consumption. The beheadings shown in these videos are usually not performed in a "classical" method – decapitating a victim quickly with a blow from a sword or axe – but by the relatively slow and tortuous process of slicing and sawing the victim's neck, while still alive, with a knife.[3] Despite the number of groups and ideologies that employ this form of propaganda, the process is overwhelmingly associated with Islamic extremists.


The first beheading video was of Daniel Pearl in 2002.[4] The videos were popularized in 2004 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a radical Islamic militant.[5]

The videos caused controversy among Islamic scholars, some of whom denounced them as against Islamic law; Al-Qaeda did not approve and Osama bin Laden considered them poor public relations. Regardless, they became popular with certain Islamic terrorist groups, such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[6]

The beheadings shown in these videos are usually not performed in a "classical" method – decapitating a victim quickly with a blow from a sword or axe – but by the relatively slow and tortuous process of slicing and sawing the victim's neck, while still alive, with a knife.[3]

Early videos were grainy and unsophisticated, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, had by 2004 been "growing in sophistication, using animated graphics and editing techniques apparently aimed at embellishing the audio to make a victim's final moments seem more disturbing".[7] These videos are often uploaded to the World Wide Web by terrorists, then discussed and distributed by web-based outlets,[8] such as blogs, shock sites, and traditional journalistic media. After a beheading video by a Mexican drug cartel spread virally on Facebook, the Family Online Safety Institute petitioned to have it removed.[9] Initially, Facebook refused to remove the video,[10] then did so,[11] and subsequently clarified their policies, stating that beheading videos would only be allowed if posted in a manner intended for its users to "condemn" the acts.[12]

Writing in The Atlantic, Simon Cottee drew a comparison between jihadist videos and gonzo pornography.[13]

Videos released[edit]










  • Beheading of a Mexican.[59]


A hoax beheading video filmed by Benjamin Vanderford, Robert Martin, and Laurie Kirchner in 2004 received wide attention by the American press.[60] The video used Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad's logo, but not the group's flag.[61] It was originally filmed for Vanderford's local election campaign.[62] He was seeking Matt Gonzalez's seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.[63] Vanderford's second intention was to point out how uncritically the mainstream media would accept an anonymous video.[64] The Islamic Global Media Center claimed to have made the video, but removed it from their website after the hoax was discovered.[65] The video also appeared on other militant websites and was broadcast on Arabic television.[66][67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stannard, Matthew B. (May 13, 2004). "Beheading video seen as war tactic". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 23, 2010.
  2. ^ "Beheading". Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  3. ^ a b Brecher, Gary (September 3, 2014). "The long, twisted history of beheadings as propaganda". PandoDaily.
  4. ^ Miles, Steven H. (2009), Oath Betrayed: American's Torture Doctures, U. of California Pr., p. 162, ISBN 978-0-520-25968-3. Miles' claim matches the list in this article if we ignore the beheading of Daniel Pearl almost 27 months earlier in Pakistan. From at last some perspectives, it seems reasonable to classify the Pearl beheading as separate from the 10 beheadings in the 6 months following Abu Ghraib abuses entered the international consciousness. The match isn't perfect, because to get eleven beheadings after Abu Ghraib and before Miles' book appeared, we would either need an event not included in this article or we would need to include the beheading of Piotr Stańczak in Pakistan just over 4 years later. Nevertheless, the record seems largely to confirm Miles' suggestion of vengeance as a motive. He continues, “Pursuing justice differs from being consumed by revenge. The former proceeds from crime to investigation, to trial, to punishment, and then to closure. Vengeance is a whirlwind, where atrocity justifies revenge, and revenge becomes an atrocity.”
  5. ^ Rosen, Armin (14 July 2014). "The Most Extreme Faction Of Al Qaeda Is Winning, And It's Leading To The Destruction Of Iraq". Business Insider. Business Insider Inc. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  6. ^ Bloom, Mia (August 22, 2014). "Even al-Qaeda denounced beheading videos. Why the Islamic State brought them back". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  7. ^ Shrader, Katherine Pfleger (September 29, 2004). "Terrorists sense power in beheading videos". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 21, 2014. Retrieved August 23, 2014 – via Highbeam Research.
  8. ^ Palmer, Ewan (August 20, 2014). "James Foley: Police Warn Watching Beheading Video Is A 'Terrorist Offence'". International Business Times. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  9. ^ Karis, Hustad (October 31, 2013). "Facebook Graphic Content Woes: When Are Beheading Videos Okay?". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on September 21, 2014. Retrieved August 23, 2014 – via Highbeam Research.
  10. ^ Su, Reissa (4 November 2013). "Beheaded Woman in Viral Video on Facebook 'Unknown,' Authorities Not Investigating (VIDEO)". International Business Times. Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  11. ^ Grant, Will (3 November 2013). "Facebook beheading video: Who was Mexico's Jane Doe?". BBC News Online. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  12. ^ Oreskovic, Alexei (October 21, 2013). "Gory videos OK when posted for users to 'condemn': Facebook". Reuters. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  13. ^ Simon Cottee (September 12, 2014). "The Pornography of Jihadism". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
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  21. ^ Spinner, Jackie; Faiola, Anthony (June 23, 2004). "S. Korean Is Beheaded in Iraq". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
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  24. ^ "'Egyptian spy' beheaded in Iraq". Daily Times. August 11, 2004. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
  25. ^ Youssef, Nancy A. (September 1, 2004). "Extremists in Iraq execute 12 Nepalese workers One was beheaded; the others, shot. The group said they were killed for helping the U.S. against Islam". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  26. ^ "American Hostage Beheaded in Iraq; Bush, Kerry Agree to Debate; Can Rather Survive Memogate?". CNN. September 20, 2004. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  27. ^ a b Faraj, Caroline; al-Hilli, Thaira; Muhy, Bassem; Qasira, Faris; Tawfeeq, Mohammed (September 22, 2004). "Report: Al-Zarqawi group kills American hostage". CNN. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  28. ^ Walker, Glen (August 19, 2014). "Video Claims to Show Terrorist Group ISIS Beheading U.S. Journalist James Foley". KTLA. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  29. ^ McCarthy, Rory (October 8, 2004). "Sad, bloody end to Bigley saga". The Guardian. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  30. ^ Shubert, Atika (October 31, 2004). "Beheaded Japanese to be flown home". CNN. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
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  32. ^ Schwirtz, Michael (9 June 2008). "Family identifies son in Russian beheading video". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  33. ^ Aleksandrov, German (11 July 2011). "«Наша совесть выше ваших законов»" (in Russian). Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  34. ^ Gerasimenko, Olesya; Shmarayeva, Elena (25 July 2011). "Дело тринадцати". Kommersant Vlast (in Russian) (29). p. 20. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  35. ^ Shah, Saeed (February 9, 2009). "Polish man beheaded in Pakistani militant video". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
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  40. ^ Callimachi, Rukmini; De Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko (September 13, 2014). "ISIS Video Shows Execution of David Cawthorne Haines, British Aid Worker". The New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
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  59. ^ "CNN report: Cartel beheadings on the rise in 2019".
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