On November 16, 2014 the Islamic State released a 16-minute video that displayed the severed head of 26-year-old former U.S. Army Ranger Peter Kassig. The video was characteristically different than the four previous Islamic State beheading videos of American and British hostages by the man known as Jihadi John. Although there have been many previous videos of mass beheadings by various al Qaeda-linked groups and Islamic State militants, this film is unique in content and quality. The Islamic State is the first terrorist group to film and stage a formalized ritual mass beheading. Shot in high definition, slickly produced and edited with Hollywood precision, 19 jihadists simultaneously behead 19 Syrian air force pilots and military officers in a ceremonial ritual execution.
Prior to the ritual mass murders the first half of the video is the usual propaganda that provides justification for the violence. The video opens with images of a map of the world graphically indicating the Islamic State’s goals of world domination. The title that appears in segments throughout reads “Although the disbelievers dislike it.” The first 4 ½ minutes is a history of the Islamic State with tributes to its fallen leaders beginning with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the father of modern beheading. There are images of alleged victims of American airstrikes, including dead children to evoke hatred and clips of Islamic State battles to demonstrate that the jihadist militants are the heroic good guys. This is all a prelude to the featured segment.
At exactly 8 minutes, halfway through the video, the Islamic State ritual begins. Syrian military personnel each accompanied by a jihadist militant are marched through the desert, led by Jihadi John. The militants are dressed in camouflage uniforms with black head coverings but their faces are not concealed. The Syrian soldiers are dressed in dark blue. Jihadi John is dressed in his usual black uniform with his face covered. The ritual procession continues with each jihadist taking a black handled knife out of a wooden box that contains the ceremonial weapons. The footage is very dramatic and powerful, zooming in with slow motion visual effects and melodramatic sounds as each blade is taken from the box. The ritual procession continues until the jihadists file into a formal line with nine on each side of Jihad John and their victims on their knees in front of them.
The jihadists hold their knives in their right hand and their victims in their left. The ritual execution begins with a reading of offenses by Jihad John who also has a Syrian soldier in front of him. Jihad John begins the ritual execution by insulting and threatening President Obama:
To Obama, the dog of Rome. Today we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar and tomorrow we will be slaughtering your soldiers. And with Allah’s permission we will break this final and last crusade. And the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, begin to slaughter your people in your streets.He points the knife at the camera during the threats to America. Then there is silence as the camera pans over the faces of the men who know they are about to suffer a horrible death and the faces of the executioners who are about to pledge their allegiance in sacrificial blood. Dramatic images and sound effects portray the moment as a sacred solemn rite. The camera fades to black and appears with Jihad John signaling with one word for the ritual killing to commence.
The victims are immediately pushed to the ground, the camera keeps fading in and out of black in-between the cutting of throats, with the loud sound of hearts beating in the background. In one of the most inconceivable mass murders ever committed, 19 men are simultaneously beheaded at one time by 19 other men. The camera returns to focus on Jihadi John. Of the four previous videos this is the first time we ever see him actually kill anyone, and it is obvious that he has experience. As he is cutting through the carotid artery the sound of blood hitting the ground is exaggerated adding to the horror. Then the culmination of the ritual killing and the most disturbing act in the entire film occurs when Jihadi John pulls his knife out of the throat of his victim and looks directly at the camera while exposing the partially decapitated neck. The look in Jihadi Johns eyes is chilling; pure, unadulterated feral bloodlust. Then the camera in fast motion displays Jihad John pounce on his victim in a wild animal movement to finish the decapitation. The camera then pans over all of the soldiers completing their beheading and zooms in on a large stream of blood.
The ritual ends with each soldier holding his bloodstained knife standing above his sacrificial victim, whose heads are placed on the center of their backs. The camera then shows the faces of the jihadist executioners, all from different countries, a multicultural mass murder team. They are somber and serious, not laughing or desecrating the bodies, demonstrating how a warrior should behave during and after the kill. Then as the camera slowly pans over images of the beheaded men a voiceover from Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Arabic says, “Know that we have armies in Iraq and an army in Sham of hungry lions whose drink is blood and play is carnage.” After viewing the ritual murders that is an apt description.
The next segment, also titled “Although the believers dislike it,” demonstrates how many individuals and groups from around the world have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The final segment at the 14:30 mark opens with the disarticulated head of American Peter Kassig at the feet of Jihadi John. The camera pans up Jihad John’s body and he makes the following statement in English:
This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country. Peter, who fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier under the American army, doesn’t have much to say. His previous cell mates have already spoken on his behalf.’ But we say to you Obama … you claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars, that you have not withdrawn and that if you had withdrawn that you would return, even if after some time.’You would return. Here you are. You have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies and withdrawn the rest. Your forces will return, greater in number than they were before.’You will return and your proxies will not benefit you.’And we also remind you of the haunting words that our Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi told you. The spark has been lit here in Iraq and its heat will continue to intensify by Allah’s permission until it burns the crusader army in Dabiq. ‘And here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq. Eagerly awaiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.The video ends with the classic image of the jihadist carrying a large Islamic State flag across the land. Dabiq is a highly symbolic location which has historical and religious significance for Islam. The Islamic State has designated the place for the “Final Hour” where Armageddon will begin in an Islamic apocalyptic tradition that designates the West as modern-day Romans. That is why Jihadi John referred to president Obama as the dog of Rome.
This video goes way beyond just propaganda and psychological warfare — it is the documentation of an Islamist ceremonial ritual mass murder. For the jihadist executioners it was an initiation ritual, a somber rite of passage that grants them status and honor as Mujahideen warriors. As a recruitment tool it is a tour de force, a murder masterpiece that will resonate with young men around the world. This video will recruit more soldiers for the Islamic State, incite lone wolves and inspire more beheadings in Western countries than any of the others that preceded it. Unlike the unsophisticated beheading videos that involve laughter and body desecration that diminishes the sanctity of the act, it elevates beheading to a ceremonial rite of purity that distinguishes it from accusations of barbarism.
The video also functions as proof of death of Peter Kassig and proof of life of Jihadi John who reportedly had been injured in a U.S.-led air strike. Significantly there is no new victim displayed at the end of this video as in the prior four. That is because the Islamic State has successfully sent its message. They no longer need to do their own dirty work. They have inspired lone wolves all over the world to continue their beheading tradition. The threat in this video that “tomorrow they will be slaughtering American soldiers” should be taken very seriously. The Islamic State has made good on every threat to murder hostages. This video should be viewed as a preview of what they intend to do. For example, if the Islamic State breaches the American Embassy in Baghdad they are going to make the Fall of Saigon look like a garden party. Instead of Syrian pilots it will be American Marines ritually murdered and filmed.
President Obama’s response was that this incident was “pure evil by a terrorist group.” How large does the Parents of Beheaded Americans Club have to get before President Obama will use the words “Islamic terrorists”? There should be no doubt that these murders are done in the name of Islam and for the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, whom they are emulating. Beheadings are ritual expressions of authentic Islam and the Islamic State has turned them into Hollywood blockbusters.