The changing faces of ISIS victims
Scarcely a week goes by without the endless horror shows of the Islamic State (ISIS) causing grief and sorrow somewhere. The latest to suffer were the families of some 30 Ethiopian Christians captured and killed in Libya.
The heavily choreographed 29-minute video released April 19th, purportedly showed ISIS’s Ethiopian victims being shot and beheaded. For the ISIS operators, it is not the nationality or colour of the skin of the victims that matters most; it is the agony of the victims’ families and the shock value attained as global audiences helplessly watch the blood-soaked videos.
Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), explained that execution videos and their presentation are central to jihadist groups’ strategies.
“It is no longer about the number of people being killed,” he said. “Parts of the jihadist movement have understood, especially since last summer, that you can grab the world’s attention, you can even force the hand of the world’s most important people, by just having a video camera and a knife and recording the act of beheading someone.”
The theatrics of Islamist terror have come a long way since their macabre beginnings, but choreographed violence has always been their mainstay.
The gruesome beheadings of American Nick Berg and Briton Kenneth Bigley at the hands of a progenitor group of ISIS were filmed on grainy video, with the executioner reading from a pre-prepared Arabic script. No subtitles were available. Even then, however, terrorists understood the importance of symbolism, dressing their victims in orange jumpsuits reminiscent of those worn by detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
ISIS, however, has taken the format to a new level. The ISIS release depicting the execution of Ethiopian Christians in Libya was shot in high definition. The theatrics of death are presented with horrendous aplomb and cinematically produced.
The pre-execution speech is delivered in English.
The ghastly murders of Ethiopian and Egyptian Christians and a string of British, American and Japanese hostages have all been fronted by an English-speaking figure and produced by the same media arm of ISIS, Al-Furqan media group.
The revelation that the executioner in the videos shot in Syria grew up in West London ensured that ISIS featured prominently in the international news agenda for weeks and raised uncomfortable questions about the number of Westerners in the ranks of the terror group.
The presence of Westerners in ISIS and their prominence in fronting their videos helps keep the group in the headlines and its message reaching potential recruits and it seems to be working: The latest ISIS release came packaged with subtitles in English, French, Russian and German. Britain, Germany, France and Russia are among the top source countries for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, ICSR says.