ISIS's Use Of Twitter, Other U.S. Social Media To Disseminate Images, Videos Of Islamic Religious Punishments – Beheading, Crucifixion, Stoning, Burning, Drowning, Throwing From Buildings – Free Speech?

January 6, 2016


By: Steven Stalinsky, R. Sosnow, and M. Khayat*

"[With regard to] the slaughter of that American [Nicholas Berg] under the slogan 'Allah Akhbar': You know, in schools today... six- and seven-year-old children are shown how to slaughter, and the children have to shout 'Allah Akhbar.' There are thousands of terrified children... who cannot sleep at night... Can anything good come out of this generation? Murder has become our folklore."

MEMRI TV Clip No. 128 - Iraqi Writer Dr. Hisham Al-'Iqabi: Murder Has Become Our Folklore, June 9, 2004.

"What I'm aware of is about the three, four guys that we beheaded. And then we put the heads as usual in the town center. The reason for putting the heads in the town center, again, is to demoralize or cause fear into the hearts of the spies who are amongst us."

British citizen fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria[1]


Over the past few weeks, a debate has been emerging among leading legal scholars about the First Amendment and Islamic State (ISIS) activity on the Internet. On December 15, 2015, in an article in Slate titled "ISIS Gives Us No Choice But To Consider Limits On Speech," University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner called for greater speech curbs, noted that terrorist groups' increasing ability to use social media to recruit young people for their mission has "given rise to a historic and unprecedented danger from foreign radicalization and recruitment," and suggested "a law that makes it a crime to access websites that glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS."

While some legal scholars disagreed, insisting that ISIS and other jihadi content online is protected free speech, a growing number are thinking differently. Erik Eckholm wrote on December 27, 2015 in The New York Times, under the headline "ISIS Influence on Web Prompts Second Thoughts On First Amendment": "It is one of the most hallowed precepts in modern constitutional law: Freedom of speech may not be curbed unless it poses a 'clear and present danger'... But some legal scholars are asking... whether it is time to reconsider that constitutional line... Should not the government have a way, they ask, to block messages that facilitate terrorist acts?" He noted that in November 2015, Harvard law professor and former Obama administration official Cass R. Sunstein had said that "it's worth asking whether that ['clear and present danger'] test may be ripe for reconsideration." He also pointed out that according to Posner, there is a need to "rethink the tradeoffs" of the First Amendment "as technology and society change." Eckholm wrote that while "all these legal experts, including Mr. Posner, agree that today's Supreme Court would strike down" a law such as the one suggested by Posner, they all agree that the court's thinking could change if more Americans indoctrinated by jihadi videos carry out terrorist attacks. He concluded by quoting University of Chicago constitutional law expert Geoffrey R. Stone: "Five years from now, who knows? You can imagine a scenario in which things get so terrible that you start watering down the protections."

Part of the focus of these legal scholars' discussions is the huge number of very graphic ISIS videos and images of Islamic punishments - beheadings, amputations, crucifixions, stoning and burning people to death, and throwing them off rooftops - that this and other jihadi groups have been freely posting on U.S. social media in the past two years, and that Al-Qaeda disseminated online prior to that. All those involved in this debate will find it hard to argue that this content should be protected free speech or that it should be online. Although this discussion is only now coming to the surface, for the past several years MEMRI has been documenting these Islamic punishments, as can be seen in the following report (WARNING: THIS CONTENT IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC).

Preface: Setting The Stage For Today's Dissemination Of Beheadings On Social Media

In May 2004, the filmed beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg by Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was posted by numerous jihadi websites, and widely reposted, setting the tone for many similar videos that would follow during the second Iraq War. It was found most recently on Twitter on December 14, 2015.

Nicholas Berg beheading (@357Che, December 14, 2015)

A few months later, in July 2004, the video of the beheading of Lockheed Martin employee in Saudi Arabia Paul Johnson Jr. also went viral, as did still images of his severed head in the hands of one of his murderers. Following that beheading, Al-Qaeda's Sawt Al-Jihad magazine wrote in an article titled "A Letter to the Wife of the Slain Paul Johnson From the Wife of One of the Martyrs" that warned: "We are just getting started, and the corpse of your husband shall be followed by mountains of corpses of his countrymen."

The video of the beheading of Illinois contractor Robert Jacob in Riyadh was posted online in June 2004, and those of the beheadings of Georgia engineer Jack Hensley and Michigan contractor Eugene Armstrong were both posted online in September 2004. In June 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council, of which Al-Qaeda in Iraq was a part, claimed in an online statement to have "slaughtered" U.S. Army PFCs Thomas Tucker and Kristian Menchaca, suggesting that they had been beheaded.[2] While no videos of those killings have surfaced,[3] a video, released by the Mujahideen Shura Council, of the beheading of one and killings of two more of four Russian diplomats[4] kidnapped in Iraq that same month was released.

Left, Jack Hensley; right, Eugene Armstrong

Other online videos of beheadings in Iraq were of Italian photographer Salvatore Santoro and of Korean translator Kim Sun-il, both in December 2004, and of Japanese contractor Akihiko Saito, in May 2005.

In its September 11, 2013 editorial on the 9/11 attacks, the Tunisian daily Al-Haqaiq wrote: "The absurd thing is that the global terrorism mill, which had struck what it calls infidels in their bastions in New York, Madrid, London, and Moscow, later began harvesting the heads of thousands of Muslims in the mosques and markets of Iraq."[5]

During the Iraq War, and since then, jihadis have been beheading Syrians, Iraqis, and other locals. Turkish truck drivers and contractors were shown being beheaded in a video filmed in October 2004 in Iraq; a January 2005 video captured the beheading of Lebanese businessman Badri Ghazi Abu Hamzah, also in Iraq; also, a July 2005 video showed the beheading there of Egypt's Ambassador to Iraq Ihab Al-Sherif.[6] A video of two captured Algerian diplomats to Iraq, Ali Balarousi and colleague Azzedin Belkadi, was posted later in July 2005 by Al-Qaeda in Iraq; the group later reported that it had killed them.[7]

A popular terrorist confession television program, aired by Iraq's Al-Iraqiya and Al-Fayhaa channels, often focused on the subject of beheading. For example, on the February 23, 2005 show, captured Iraqi terrorist Shihab Al-Sab'awi explained how Syrian intelligence officials in Syria taught him to kill and behead[8]; the March 30, 2005 show featured another captured Iraqi terrorist, Omar Allawi, who said that he had been paid $200 to film beheadings[9]; and on the April 21, 2005 show, captured Iraqi terrorist Adnan Elias said he had killed hostages by disembowelment.[10]

In 2005, people were shocked by these early beheadings; today, a decade later, a new group has emerged in Syria, Iraq, and the region that makes these early beheadings seem tame.

Introduction: Islamic Religious Punishments In Iraq And Syria, The Emergence Of ISIS, And The Dissemination Of Images, Videos Via U.S.-Based Social Media

Since its inception, the Islamic State (ISIS) and groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN), as well as other Al-Qaeda affiliates and offshoots, have used U.S.-based social media services as a vital tool to advance their goals - indeed, these social media have served them as a vital tool in their propaganda efforts. ISIS has used Twitter, YouTube, and other U.S.-based services to effectively strike fear into the hearts of both their enemies and of the residents of regions already under their control, with graphic images of beheadings, crucifixions, floggings, and other Islamic punishments.

The following report highlights how ISIS and the other organizations have used, and continue to use, U.S.-based social media to disseminate images and videos of these punishments; a history of jihadi beheadings on social media, including by Western fighters in Syria and Iraq; various categories of Islamic punishments posted on social media; and extensive examples of jihadi posts of beheadings, including videos.

These Islamic punishments, often handed down by local Islamic courts run by these organizations, and for which Koran passages are cited as justification, are being widely implemented against minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and homosexuals;[11] against members, or suspected members, of rival jihadi groups, of Syrian regime forces, of Hizbullah, and of Iranian armed forces; and against local citizens. Ample evidence of these punishments is being shared and circulated via these group's official accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and others. These images are also being circulated by individual members and supporters of these groups, pro-Syrian regime elements, anti-regime elements, and others worldwide; MEMRI has been documenting these for three years.

Many times, these punishments are carried out in public in front of crowds of onlookers; the crowds often include children, and the events are used as indoctrination and instruction for the children. ISIS media releases feature many foreign fighters, particularly Europeans, carrying out these beheadings.

Monitoring this content is not an easy task; according to media reports, intelligence agencies, including the CIA, NSA, and National Counterterrorism Center, employ therapists to help analysts deal with the emotional trauma they experience from viewing and analyzing videos and images of beheadings and other graphic violence.[12] But it is vital to make the public aware of, and to document, the brutality of this content circulating on social media; doing so will help the West understand the opponent that it is facing.

Twitter, YouTube Terms Of Service Specifically Ban Publishing Of Graphic Violence

Major social media outlets' terms of service specifically prohibit the use of their services for sharing content such as the images and videos of beheadings, executions, amputations, floggings, and more that these jihadi groups are posting. It should be noted that prior to ISIS's beheading of American photojournalist James Foley and the posting of the video of the beheading on YouTube and of images from it on Twitter, these and other social media companies did little or nothing to remove such content - despite the fact that it violated their own terms of service.

Twitter's "Rules" currently state: "Violent threats (direct or indirect): Users may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism. Users also may not make threats or promote violence against a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, or disability."[13]

YouTube's "Community Guidelines" state: "Violent or graphic content: It's not okay to post violent or gory content that's primarily intended to be shocking, sensational, or disrespectful... Don't encourage others to commit specific acts of violence."[14]

October 2013: ISIS Announces The New Islamic Law Of The Land

Executions and other death sentences, as well as amputations and floggings and the offenses for which they are implemented, were laid out in detail in the ISIS stronghold of Al-Raqqa, Syria in an October 2013 ISIS video disseminated via social media. As reported by the Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV, in a video, the "Islamic State in Iraq and Sham... recently issued a statement in Al-Raqqa showing prohibitions (Islamic laws) and offenses punishable by flogging [first] and end[ing] with death."

The video stated that "Islamic laws" included bans on makeup and jeans for women and mandatory burqas for girls; a ban on smoking, and mandatory closure of men's barber shops and banning of haircuts, the violation of which is punishable by death. Violators of the new ban on smoking would have their "index and middle" fingers amputated, and, if they did not kick the habit, would be further punished with "80 lashes and up to their execution." Women must be treated only by female doctors, no jeans "with waist" may be worn by young people, and there must be no "modern hair styles and use of gel," with 80 lashes for violators. Women are also banned from "sitting on chairs."[15]

Burqas For Girls; Smoking Is Punishable By Death, Amputation Of Fingers, 80 Lashes, And Execution

No Haircuts, "The Violation Of 'Death'"; 70 Lashes For "Words Or Disagreement With" ISIS

December 2014: (ISIS) Publishes Penal Code, Says It Will Be Vigilantly Enforced

On December 15, 2014, a document detailing the ISIS penal code was released on the Jihadi Media Platform forum ( Titled "Clarification [regarding] the Hudud [Koranic punishments]," it listed crimes and their respective shari'a punishments. ISIS said that it was publishing the document as a warning and a reminder to the people living under its rule, and reiterated its commitment to be vigilant in its enforcement.

The document begins with various Koranic verses emphasizing the need for Muslims to adhere to the shari'a, noting that those who do not are considered unbelievers.

The crimes and punishments listed include:[16]

  • Blasphemy against Allah: Death

  • Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad: Death - even if the accuser repents

  • Blasphemy against Islam: Death

  • Adultery: Stoning to death if the adulterer was married and 100 lashes and exile if he or she were unmarried.

  • Sodomy (homosexuality): Death for the person committing the act, as well as for the one receiving it.

  • Theft: Hand amputation

  • Drinking alcohol: 80 lashes

  • Slander: 80 lashes

  • Spying for the unbelievers: Death

  • Apostasy: Death

  • Banditry:

    • Murder and stealing: Death and crucifixion

    • Murder only: Death

    • Stealing (as part of banditry): Cutting off the right hand and the left leg

    • Terrorizing people: Exile.

ISIS Grabs World Attention - By Posting Videos Of Beheading Of Western Hostages

For the first time since the mid-2000s, beheadings made headlines, on August 19, 2014, with the release of an ISIS video showing the beheading of American photojournalist James Wright Foley by a hooded man with a British accent; the video, titled "A Message to America," and images from the beheading were widely shared on social media. The video, which was first released by Al-Hayat Media via social networks, soon went viral, with download links posted on the Internet Archive (, Twitter, and YouTube.

The video also featured Steven Joel Sotloff, another American hostage in ISIS custody, and threatened that his fate would be the same as Foley's if the U.S. did not stop its attacks against ISIS. Sotloff was beheaded two weeks later; on September 2, ISIS released a video showing Sotloff's beheading, titled "A Second Message To America." In the video, the executioner threatened to also kill a Briton being held hostage by the group.

A video of the beheading of British humanitarian aid worker David Haines, titled "A Message to the Allies of America," was released by ISIS on September 13; one of the beheading of British humanitarian aid worker Alan Henning was released October 3, 2014; and one showing that American aid worker Peter Kassig had been beheaded, along with the beheading of Syrian soldiers, was released November 16, 2014.

James Wright Foley, Steven Joel Sotloff

David Haines, Alan Henning

Peter Kassig

Segments of the Foley beheading video were posted on LiveLeak as well; two days after the beheading, on August 21, 2014, it issued a statement about the video that read in part: "The last 24 hours have been a fairly intense affair here on LiveLeak given the sheer volume of traffic we've dealt with from people looking for the James Foley beheading video... The actual video concerned does not show the beheading of James Foley although it does show a graphic image of the aftermath. We chose to show it because it's within our remit to show such items given this is an outrageous and horrific act... We thought it was important to show this video and allow those who chose to view it the right to do so." It added: "There is every chance - given the rumors of hostage stockpiling [by ISIS] currently doing the rounds - that that we could see a return to the dark times of 2004/5 when beheadings happened with an alarming and depressing regularity... [As a result, w]e will not have regular beheadings from IS[IS] on the site."[17]

Twitter Shuts Down ISIS, Other Jihadi Accounts

The day after Foley's beheading, on August 20, 2014, following the widespread tweeting of the video and images of the event, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted, "We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery. Thank you." Nevertheless, the release of the videos of ISIS's next four beheadings of Americans and Britons were all announced via Twitter - with more graphic images of the beheadings and their aftermath. Furthermore, four months later, the number of graphic jihadi tweets of beheadings and executions was at its peak.

Additionally, just prior to the beheading, Twitter had already launched a mass shutdown of accounts belonging to ISIS; even before that, Twitter had begun to remove some accounts of designated terrorists. In many cases, however, as soon as the accounts were shut down, new ones were immediately created to replace them.

When Twitter began to remove ISIS accounts, many ISIS supporters openly discussed what was happening, ridiculing Twitter's removal of their accounts with comments such as "Takes me 5 minutes max to create a new account, email and follow 70% of old following list, and 1 day to get 500 followers, try me"; "You can suspend us but you cannot silence us, the truth will be told"; and "Damn, Twitter allows child porn but deletes Islamic State profiles." They also widely tweeted and retweeted information on new accounts replacing the closed ones, with messages urging followers to "please spread this account brothers and sisters" and the like.

Tweets Of Beheadings Continue Despite Twitter Account Shutdowns

Despite Twitter CEO Costolo's announcement that accounts tweeting images of beheading would be suspended, ISIS and ISIS supporters continued to tweet images of the beheadings of Foley, and later Sotloff, Haines, and Henning. The tweets included hashtags referring to the titles of ISIS's videos of the beheadings, as well as messages such as "[Only] if the crowing and weepers [can] ponder on what the orange shirt of the Crusader infidel [i.e. Foley] symbolizes/Thank you #ISIS #JamesFoley"; "If you don't stop your crazy Obama from killing our People in Iraq so that will be your destiny"; "This British citizen will pay the price for your promise oh Cameron to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State"; "Here is the [Islamic] State response"; "Call upon Allah and slaughter/replied God is great/for the Islamic nation revolt/for your deed today we are proud"; "This hero [the executioner] wiped the ground with Cameron"; "Cameron threatened us! And the response of our State was a blow to the neck..."; and "Our knives will continue to stab the necks of your citizens."

ISIS Videos On Japanese Citizens' Beheadings Disseminated Via Twitter

On January 20, 2015, ISIS released via Twitter a video threatening to execute Japanese hostages Haruna Yukawa and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto Jogo if it did not receive $200 million in ransom from Japan.[18]

The next video, released via Twitter on January 24, 2015, included an audio appeal by Kenji Goto Jogo against the background of a still image of him holding a photo of the beheaded Haruna Yukawa. In it, Jogo appeals for his release, and says that ISIS is no longer requesting a ransom but demanding the release of female suicide bomber Sajida Al-Rishawi, who was imprisoned in Jordan. The video was released via the Sahawat News account (@Nsahwt), several hours after the expiration of ISIS's 72-hour ultimatum to the Japanese government. Several hours after the video was tweeted, it was released by ISIS on the Shumoukh Al-Islam forum.[19]

In another video, released January 27, 2015 via Twitter, Kenji Goto Jogo again appealed for his release, and said that ISIS would execute him if the Jordanian government did not release Sajida Al-Rishawi within 24 hours. He added that if she was not released ISIS would execute captured Jordanian pilot Mu'adh Al-Kasasbeh, a photo of whom he holds in the video.[20]

On January 31, 2015, ISIS released a video showing the execution of Kenji Goto Jogo. Jogo's executioner directs a message to the government of Japan, informing it that it and the other countries in the anti-ISIS coalition have "yet to understand that we, by Allah's grace, are an Islamic caliphate with authority and power. An entire army thirsty for your blood." He also said to Japanese Prime Minister Abe: "Because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin."[21]

Even After Foley Beheading, Photos And Videos Of Beheadings, Executions, And Crucifixions Are Easily Found On Twitter

Although, as mentioned, Twitter cracked down on images and videos of beheadings immediately following the beheading of James Foley in August 2014 -and up to the video released by ISIS just this week featuring a mass execution of alleged "spies" (see below) -such images, and many more, including of ISIS's beheadings, executions such as the burning death of the Jordanian pilot, and crucifixions are easily found on Twitter. Even when Twitter suspends accounts, new ones are created, often immediately, and ISIS supporters and other jihadis quickly let their followers know about them so they can follow them.


On February 15, 2015, ISIS released, inter alia via Twitter, a video titled "A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross," showing the beheading of 21 Coptic men whom ISIS announced it had captured in Libya the previous month.

ISIS had hinted at what would happen to the men in Issue VII of its English-language online magazine Dabiq, released a few days previously; the magazine included a photo of them wearing orange jumpsuits and being led by masked ISIS members to their presumed fate. It also noted that the men were captured to avenge the Egyptian Coptic Church's persecution of Muslim women, noting in particular the 2010 case of Camilia Shehata, a Christian woman who had converted to Islam and was subsequently reportedly kidnaped by the Coptic Church. The video also referenced Shehata, stating that the 21 Christian Copts had been killed to avenge her and other Muslim women who were also persecuted by the Coptic Church.

ISIS English-speaking executioner

The video shows the 21 men, described as "followers of the hostile Egyptian Church," being marched by masked men to their fate at an undisclosed location on the coast of "wilayat Tarabulus," a reference to the historic northwestern Libyan province of Tripolitania.

A masked ISIS speaker delivers a message in English. The speaker does not appear to be the infamous Jihadi John, the ISIS member in several previous execution videos.

Noting that he is standing in Libya, which lies south of Rome, the speaker reiterates ISIS's determination to continue fighting the Crusaders until the end of time, while threatening that the sea in which they had thrown Osama bin Laden's body would be mixed with their blood.

Following the beheading of the 21 men, the speaker says that with Allah's permission, ISIS would conquer Rome as well.

Showing the bloody carnage, and the men's severed heads placed atop their bodies, the video notes that the men's "filthy blood is just some of what awaits you in revenge for Camilia and her sisters."[22] Images from the beheading were also circulated on Twitter:



(@I_SK_15, February 12, 2015)

Released Via Twitter: ISIS Video Showing Burning Alive Of Captured Jordanian Pilot

On February 3, 2015, the ISIS media company Al-Furqan disseminated via Twitter (@O111492) a video showing Mu'adh Al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot held by the group, being burned alive. The video, which is titled "Healing Of The Believers' Chest," includes an interview with Al-Kasasbeh, who details his December 24, 2014 mission during which he was captured by ISIS, and notes Jordan's and other Arab countries' role in the coalition campaign against ISIS.

The video shows a caged Al-Kasasbeh being burned alive, saying that it is taking place at one of the locations targeted by coalition airstrikes, and then buried in rubble that it says is from the building destroyed by the coalition. The video also includes a call to Jordanians to kill other Jordanian pilots who are participating in the anti-ISIS coalition.[23]

Released Via Twitter: Video Showing Executions Of Spies In Ninawa

On June 23, 2015, ISIS's Ninawa province released a video showing the horrific execution of a group of alleged spies, by means of being blown up in a car, being strung together with a fuse around their necks and detonated, and drowning slowly in a cage lowered into a swimming pool. The video, and images from it, were widely tweeted and the video was posted on YouTube.

In June 2014, leading U.S. tech companies, including Google and its subsidiary YouTube, were contacted by The Washington Post for a report on ISIS and its use of YouTube to disseminate its videos, which at the time were not being removed. These videos were of graphic beheadings, executions, and more.[24] MEMRI, which was assisting the Post with the report, was informed that Google/YouTube officials would not provide comments to the Post for the report on this YouTube content. However, once Google realized that a major report that had the potential to bring Google considerable negative publicity was due to be published, it took preemptive action: Google legal chief David Drummond and policy director Victoria Grand spoke on the issue at the June 2015 Cannes Lions advertising festival.

Grand noted: "ISIS is having a viral moment on social media and the countervailing viewpoints are nowhere near strong enough to oppose them. ISIS, in particular, has been putting up footage that is inhuman and atrocious. We are still seeing about two or three of these beheadings each week. They are heeding advice from a decade before from Osama bin Laden and they are taking it to another level using social media." Drummond said: "The power of community is not lost on ISIS, and they are using it to great effect. Right now the voice of that community is a lot larger than ours, a lot louder, there's more out there on the web. When I say ours, I mean all of us, all of us in the room today." Grand added, "The challenge for us is to strike this balance between allowing people to be educated about the dangers and the violence of this group, but not allowing ourselves to become a distribution channel for this horrible, but very newsworthy, terrorist propaganda."[25]

Drummond and Grand made these statements the day after ISIS released the above video of its execution of "spies" - as versions of the video could be found on YouTube.[26]

Google has only taken action on the issue of jihadis using YouTube following pressure from Congress or from media focus. On December 20, 2010, MEMRI Executive Director and co-author of this report Steven Stalinsky met with Ms. Grand and other senior Google staff, including Google's Senior Policy Manager, Senior Policy Counsel, and a free speech attorney, to discuss this very issue - jihadi (in this case Al-Qaeda) use of YouTube. Mr. Stalinsky explained how Al-Qaeda was using the platform, who the account owners themselves were, and the content - other jihadi videos - that YouTube's own algorithms were promoting to viewers of these videos. However, Google's executives showed no interest in taking action. In the five years since that meeting, there have been tens of thousands, possibly millions, of views of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other such videos on YouTube.

Additionally, Twitter continues to be a major means for jihadis' dissemination of images and videos of beheadings, executions, amputations, and crucifixions. To highlight this issue, below are some images found on Twitter shortly before this report was published (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC):

(@booohaa19, accessed December 16, 2015)

(@ulv26, October 10, 2015)

Released Via Twitter: ISIS Video Featuring Mass Execution Of "British Spies" - With Next "Jihadi John"

Just this week,on January 3, 2016, ISIS in Al-Raqqa province, Syria released and disseminated, inter alia via Twitter, a video titled "They Are They Enemy So Beware Of Them - 3" (the title refers to Koran 63:4), the third in a series of videos depicting ISIS's exposure and execution of spy cells. The video documented the execution by shooting of five men accused of spying. In British-accented English, the masked speaker threatens Britain and Prime Minister David Cameron, and promises that ISIS will spread to the U.K. At the end of the video, a small child in an ISIS uniform says in British-accented English, "We will kill the kuffar [infidels] over there."

Still images from the video were also widely tweeted.

(@x3fhgm2yklmfgu, January 3, 2016)

Beheadings In Syria And Iraq Circulated On Social Media - With Children, Foreign Fighters Prominently Featured

Video Of Beheading Of Syrian Priest, Other Christians - In Front Of Crowd Including Children

In a precursor to the wave of beheadings on social media, on June 24, 2013, militants belonging to Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) in Syria beheaded Syrian priest and hermit Father Francois Murad, from the Franciscan Convent of St. Anthony in Ghassanieh, northern Syria.[27]

A video documenting the beheading of the priest and of two others believed to also be Christians in front of a crowd of onlookers that included a number of children was posted June 29, 2013. It is notable that both spectators and executioners are filming the beheadings with cameras and smartphones; the video itself is most likely taken with a smartphone.[28]

Children Attending Beheadings: Indoctrination And Education

Crucifixions, beheadings, and more are generally held in public, and crowds of children are often in attendance, for their indoctrination and edification. Children are sometimes marched past bodies after beheadings, and are encouraged to handle severed heads. These events have a predictable impact on children; videos of children playing at beheading are now circulating on social media.

Children In Center Of Crowd Of Spectators At Beheading Of Priest

Children were in the crowd attending the June 2014 beheading of the Christians in Syria:

The sight of children coming into close contact with beheaded bodies has become common on social media:

Sign in photo: "Name: Jaber Ahmad Al-Khalid; Crime: [illegible] fighting the Islamic State; Sentence: death [for] apostasy; Proof: 'and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of the taghut. So fight against the minions of Satan. Indeed, Satan's plot is ever weak' (Koran 4:76)."

"Our beloved Jaber, May Allah accept you [among his martyrs] and elevate your status. Not only the lions of the Jazeera [Arabian Peninsula] and the Furat [the Euphrates] mourn you, but all Muslims. May Allah have mercy on you and put you in the higher Paradise." (@abufatma_1, October 31, 2014)

"A very nice lesson to children on how to behead the Islamic way #SaveKessab"

(@Momen0o, April 2, 2014)

Children Play At Beheading, Handle Severed Heads

Children In Yemen 'Reenact' ISIS Beheadings

A video released February 21, 2015 showed children in Yemen reenacting the February 15 ISIS video showing the execution of Egyptian Copts in Libya by ISIS.[29] The video includes all of the elements of ISIS executions video: the nashid "Soon, soon" that played in the background of the Copt execution video, shots of the handcuffed "victims" being marched to the site, and more.

At the start of the video, 10 children playing ISIS fighters lead five handcuffed "victims" to a location near a water source. As in ISIS videos, the executioners' faces are covered. At the height of the ceremony, the main "executioner" speaks gibberish, emulating Jihadi John and the main executioner of the Egyptian Copts, who speak English in their respective videos. After the speech, the "victims" are laid down and "beheaded" with sticks. A short recording of statements by ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani is played in the background.

At the end of the video, the "beheaded" victims are seen near the water source, which is colored red (in the Copt beheading video, the waters of the Mediterranean turn red from the victims' blood).[30]

Boy Emulates Foley Execution With Doll, Adults Praise His Actions

On August 22, 2014, ISIS enthusiast Abu Bakr Al-Janabi tweeted two photos of a child acting out the beheading of James Foley. In the first photo, a child dressed like Foley's executioner and wielding a knife holds up a doll dressed in orange like Foley. The second photo shows the doll with its head detached from the body and its neck smeared with a red substance. The tweet's text reads: "And some entertainment for the next generation of Mujaheddin...#ISIS."

Responding to the tweet, ISIS supporter Zklafa wrote: "Teach your children how to cut off necks [because] tomorrow there will be many rotten heads. Teach them to help you." Other readers reacted with glee: ISIS supporter Marwan-el-Tounisi tweeted: "hahaha im dying." A Canadian ISIS fighter tweeted, "cute." ISIS information disseminator Abulooz22 tweeted: "Loooooool this is hilarious."[31]

A "cub" of the Caliphate holds the head of a Syrian Army officer after beheading him

(@aba_hafs_shame6, July 16, 2015)

"The Cubs' Bravery"


Amputation with children in attendance

(@Raqqa_Sl, May 9, 2015)

Tweet: "Children fighters in the ranks of #Daesh [ISIS] absorbing the creed of slaughter and beheadings"

(@DeirEzzor24, May 8, 2015)

"ISIS kids executing Palestinian fighters in South Damascus"

(@IraqiWitness, June 8, 2015)

Europeans Involved In Beheading: Dutch, German, British, Australian Nationals In Syria And Iraq

Abdurahman: Syria's Dutch-Iraqi King of Beheading

Dutch-Iraqi ISIS member Khalid K., aka Abudurahman, tweeting as @abudurahman50, gained prominence for his photos and videos with the severed heads and decapitated bodies of what were presumably his victims, and was a key fixture of ISIS efforts to intimidate its rivals.

The Iraq-born Abudurahman, who lived on public assistance in Almere, The Netherlands between 2001 and 2011 and was classified there as mentally disabled with schizophrenia,[32] was arrested in 2011 by the Netherlands intelligence agency AIVD on suspicion of terrorism but was released for lack of evidence.[33] After his release he left for Syria; he has been banned from reentering The Netherlands for 20 years.[34]

Although his Twitter account is now shut down, his popular tweets are still being shared frequently across the Twitterverse. Al-Iraqi was reported killed in August 2014.[35]

"Dutch fighter Khaled k Almere Holland still doing his thing #Raqqa #Syria #IS

Left: Source: (, February 12, 2014); Right: "The PKK dogs killed in Azaz, they were slaughtered today"(@abudurahman50, February 14, 2014)

Left: "[18+] BREAKING: #ISIS fighter beheads Nusra and Islamic Front prisoners. #Syria" (@IraqiWitness, March 15, 2014); Right: "God willing, the news is what you see and not what you hear" (@abudurahman50, March 26, 2014)

Left: "#remains and expands with a guiding book [i.e. Koran] and a victorious sword" (@abudurahman50, March 29, 2014); Right: "Beheader of 5 Nusra [Alawite/Assad regime] fighters uploads another picture. 'Soldiers of the Islamic State, we came to you with slaughter.'" (@IraqiWitness, March 16, 2014)

German Jihadi Mohamed Mahmoud, Millatu Ibrahim Founder, Poses With Pile Of Beheaded Bodies

On November 3, 2014, jihadis tweeted photos of Austrian-born German jihadi and ISIS fighter Mohamed Mahmoud, also known as Abu Usama Al-Gharib, with beheaded bodies in an unknown location. Mahmoud, who is of Egyptian origin, is a founder of Millatu Ibrahim, an extremist Islamist group operating in Germany; prior to launching the group, he served a four-year sentence in an Austrian prison for his involvement in the Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadi media company Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF).[36]

(@eyes_of_nation, November 3, 2014)

French ISIS Fighter Urges Muslims In France To Wage Jihad, Threatens "All The Enemies Of Islam, And Specifically France... "The Mujahideen Around The World Will Not Hesitate To Cut Off Your Heads"

In an ISIS video released via Al-Hayat media on November 19, 2014, ISIS fighter Abu Maryam Al-Faranci told "the enemies of Islam, and specifically France" that "the mujahideen around the world will not hesitate to cut off your heads... "I call on my brothers in France... You have been ordered to fight the unbeliever wherever you find him.... I say once more to those Muslims in France and elsewhere... What is your excuse?..."[37]

On July 31, 2014, French/Belgian jihadi Ad Dahuq Al Qattal posted a photo of a beheaded man on his Facebook page:

Belgian Jihadi Abou Sara

According to a tweet, "Belgian jihadi Abou Sara (real name allegedly Abdelmonaim Lachiri)" was "killed in #Syria in January 2014."


British Jihadis In Syria

Jihadis from the U.K. in Syria are also participating in beheadings - even getting excited about their "first time."

From Instagram accounts of Rayat Al-Tawheed fighters from London - Abu Abdurrahman Al-Britani and Abu Daighum Al-Britani

"Allahu Akbar, Our Brother Abu B of ISIS posting with his two trophies after the operation yesterday. The skeleton is not real :) "

"My first time!"

"Screengrab of British ISIS fighters with government soldiers' heads video" "These are the heads of the kuffars the Mujahids bought back. Allahu Akbar! One of the kuffar soldier shouted 'have you come to get your freedom' Abu Aisha replyed 'No I've come to get your head' Subhan Allah got a bag full"

(@Dawla_NewsMedia, April 14, 2014)

British Rapper-Turned-ISIS-Jihadi Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary Tweets Photo Of Himself Holding Severed Head - "Chillin' With My Homie Or What's Left Of Him"

British-rapper-turned-jihadi Abdel Majed Abdel Bary who has been fighting with ISIS in Syria since late 2013, tweeted a photo of himself posing with a severed head and the text "Chillin' with my homie or what's left of him." This photo was taken in the central square of Al-Raqqah, Syria. Bary has been fighting with ISIS in Syria since late 2013.[38] One of the tweeters of the photo was Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, thought to be a Canadian fighting with ISIS, who boasted of helping other Canadians reach Syria.[39]

Retweet of Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary's photo (@AlTuraab, August 10, 2014)

Just this week, the following image was circulated on the Telegram messaging app by a Britishjihadi:

Abu Sa'eed Al-Britani on Telegram

Australia Issues Arrest Warrants For Two Australian Jihadis In Syria After Photos Of One Of Them Handling Heads Surfaced On Twitter

According to media reports, Australia issued arrest warrants for two of its citizens believed to be fighting in Syria, after images emerged of the two holding the severed heads of Syrian soldiers. Australian Federal Police counter-terrorism chief Neil Gaughan said that warrants had been issued for Australians Khaled Sharrouf (whose son is thought to be the boy holding a severed head in a tweeted photo, above) and Mohamed Elomar on terrorism offenses. The previous week, according to the report, a Twitter account linked to ISIS published photos of the beheaded corpses and heads of five soldiers that it identified as being from the 17th division that were killed in Syria's Raqqa province. It added that Sharrouf and Elomar had traveled to Syria and Iraq in late 2013, and that several days previously a Twitter account purported to belong to Sharrouf showed pictures of Elomar handling severed heads.[40]

Elomar's Twitter account (@Abuhafsashami)

(@Abuhafsashami, July 28, 2014)

Tweeted photos of Elomar and the severed heads

Months later, it was reported that Sharrouf and Elomar might have appeared in an ISIS beheading video believed to have been filmed in Al-Raqqah. In the video, titled "Harvest of the Apostates," a captive is forced to read a statement before being driven to execution sites along with two other condemned men. It also emerged that Elomar may have been trying to persuade Australians to join ISIS via social media.[41]

(, February 18, 2015)

Tweeted Photo Of Boy Holding Severed Head - Believed To Be Seven-Year-Old Son Of Australian ISIS Fighter In Syria - Prompts Australian PM Outrage

A photo taken in Al-Raqqah, Syria and tweeted by Khaled Sharrouf, an Australian who jumped bail and fled to Syria last year and is now an ISIS fighter wanted by Australia, shows a young boy, believed to be his seven-year-old son, holding the severed head of a Syrian army soldier, with the words "Thats my boy!" Australian Prime Miniabster Tony Abbot said that the photo showed the barbaric nature of the terrorist group.

Sharrouf has also been pictured posing with severed heads and dressed in camouflage fatigues with three young boys security agencies believe are his sons.[42]

A photo of "Kiwi Jihadi" (@M_Taylor_Kiwi), identified as a member of Jabhat Al-Nusra, brandishing a sword also made the jihadi rounds on Twitter:

(@abuayubmuhammad, September 28, 2014)

"We've Come To Slaughter You All" - Weapons

Images of weapons used for beheadings are commonly shared on social media.

Left to right: "#Islamic State in Iraq and Syria #ISIS machetes:) (April 2, 2014)"; "#Your (Islamic) State morning remains,we've come to slaughter you [all]" (April 16, 2014)ÔÇï; "Lions of the #Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" (April 28, 2014)

In YouTube Video, Sheikh Demonstrates Beheading Technique To Audience, Explains: "You Enjoy Yourself With It"

On August 12, 2014, ISIS followers began disseminating a YouTube video in which a sheikh shows an audience the proper way to behead someone. "You take the sword, you place the head like this, and then you enjoy yourself with it," he says, and demonstrates, moving his sword back and forth. "And it is the slitting of the throat," he says, "Slitting. Take pleasure in doing it! Al-Qurtubi says, 'And it is the slitting of the throat'... not its severing. Pay attention! 'Slitting.'"[43]


Beheadings On Social Media

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