Following are excerpts from an interview with the executioner for Mecca, Abdallah Al-Bishi, which aired on LBC TV on November 4, 2006.
Reporter: This is the most renowned executioner in Saudi Arabia, Abdallah Bin Sa'id Al-Bishi, who carries out the executions. His sword delineates the border between seriousness and play. There is no negotiating with him, once the heads have ripened. When it's harvesting time, he is the most suited for the job.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: I started to work in this field after the death of my father – about a week or ten days after his death, in 1412 [1991-92]. I was surprised that the people who supervise this field summoned me, saying I had a mission. Allah be praised. Of course, I did not have swords or anything back then, but I used the swords of my father, may he rest in peace, and carried out the execution. My first mission was to execute three people.
Reporter: Abu Bader's swords have cut off a hundred heads and more. His eldest son, Badr, is training in the same profession. He inherited this profession from his father, Sa'id Al-Bishi. He remembers how, when still a small boy, he accompanied him to the beheading of a criminal in Mecca. That sight, Abu Badr says, was the turning point in his life.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: I was at school, and an execution was set for my father in Mecca. It was to take place in front of the King Abd Al-'Aziz Gate. Before all that happened at the Al-Haram Mosque, the executions were held there. We showed up. I was a little boy. The first thing that came to my mind when people talked about executions was the digestive system. I wanted to see it. At that time, we had an exam at school on the digestive system, and we had to explain about the digestive system and whatever... So I came along, and the moment my father executed the man, I ran to see the digestive system, but all I could see was the man's head flying, and where the neck used to be, there was a kind of well. It went down. That's it. I couldn't take it anymore. I woke up in the car on the way home. At night, I tried to go to sleep, but couldn't. I had nightmares, but only once. Then I got used to it, Allah be praised.
Reporter: He carries the memory of many events, which naturally could have an effect on people, but one sees that he relates to some of them with humor.
He denies that the executioner is cruel. He considers himself one of the most compassionate people, and all the stories about him come from rumors.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Let's start with "the Sultan." I began with this Sultan. This is the sword I used on my first day at work. This is an old sword. This is a "Jowhar" sword. All my swords are "Jowhar." "Jowhar" are the strongest swords used for beheadings. It is not affected by the number of people beheaded with it. It is made of strong iron, not the kind that breaks or anything.
This sword is also a Jowhar. Every sword, of course, is different in its own way, and is suited for its task. We have a sword – this "Qaridha," to be precise – which is used for vertical strokes. This stroke is, of course, different from the horizontal one. The horizontal stroke goes like this. These are different strokes.
Dr. Turki Al-Atyan, Saudi Interior Ministry psychologist: The rulings of the Shari'a – executions or other punishments decreed by Allah – are carried out by the sword, not by hanging or by gunfire. In the past, gunfire was used, and the victim's guardian was allowed to do the shooting, but out of the fear of possible injustice, Saudi Arabia decided that executions would be carried out by the sword.|
First TV host: Like we said at the beginning of the show, the executioner Abdallah Al-Bishi will be joining us shortly. He is delayed because he is busy carrying out an execution. He is coming to the show straight from work, and will be joining us soon.
There are several executioners in Saudi Arabia, but there are no accurate figures. According to the figures we obtained in our research, there are six executioners in Saudi Arabia, but there may be a few others. There are no accurate figures.
Second TV host: They operate in different regions. Sometimes Abdallah Al-Bishi is asked to travel to another region, to carry out an execution. We will talk to him about that, and about the young executioners he has trained.
First TV host: Do you cut off hands, or do you just do beheadings?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Yes, yes. I carry out the punishment of cutting off thieves' hands, as well as the cutting off of a hand and a leg on alternate sides, as is written in the Koran.
Second TV host: Abdallah, when you carry out the punishment of cutting off limbs, do you anesthetize the condemned person, or is it done without anesthesia, like beheadings?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: With regard to the cutting off of a hand, or of both a hand and a leg, it is done with local anesthesia only.
Second TV host: But the person who is being beheaded is definitely not anesthetized, right?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: No, he is not anesthetized at all.
First TV host: Abu Badr, do you remember the first time you carried out an execution? Do you remember that day?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: I remember it to this day. I was surprised when the officials in charge asked me to carry out one of Allah's punishments. When I came, I was told it would be an execution, and I said: "No problem." I took the sword that used to belong to my father, may he rest in peace...
First TV host: How old were you then?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: At that point I was... I was a man.
First TV host: You are a man at any age, there's no doubt about that, but how old were you?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: I don't remember exactly – 32 or 35 years old. I began in 1412.
First TV host: How was the experience, especially since it was your first time. How did you feel?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Every person is a bit worried when he starts a new job, and is afraid he will fail.
Second TV host: Abdallah, what was your most difficult beheading? Have you ever beheaded someone you knew?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Yes, I have beheaded many people who were my friends, but whoever commits an offense brings it on himself.
First TV host: A viewer from Riyadh called to ask whether you execute both men and women. Do you execute women, and do you feel anything different when you execute a woman or a man?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: An execution is an execution. The difference is that sometimes, when you execute a man, he cannot control his nerves, and sit or stand straight, so that the job can be done.
First TV host: As for women, do you feel more compassion than for men? We know you are merely carrying out [the sentence], but what do you feel?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: If I felt compassion for the person I was executing, he would suffer. If the heart is compassionate, the hand fails.
When you behead more than three or four people at once, does it affect you? My second question is: Do you need a break between executions? Does it affect you or not?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Allah be praised, there is nothing to it. Three, four, five, or six – there is nothing to it. It's entirely normal. An execution is an execution, and as long as the person stands straight... As long as the person stands straight, it makes our job much easier.
Second TV host: Abdallah, we've heard that one day, you were executing several people, and the sword broke. Is that true? Tell us that story, please.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: It was the handle that came off, not the blade.
First TV host: Are you training your eldest son Badr or one of his brothers to do the same job in the future, especially since you inherited this profession from your father?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Allah be praised, Badr is about to be appointed to the position in Riyadh.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Like I already said, there is no difficulty in carrying out this mission. The only thing that concerns me is that the condemned person finish what he has to do as quickly as possible.
First TV host: Abu Badr, what time do you get up? Do you eat a special breakfast? All these details are very important to us.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: I cannot elaborate on the work itself. On the personal level, I am very normal. I get up in the morning, pray the Al-Fajr prayer. My breakfast is prepared, and I eat it. Allah be praised. I wait for the police car to pick me up, and I go to work. It's all very normal. I finish the job, and go home. It's all very normal.
Second TV host: Abdallah, sometimes at executions, the condemned asks to be pardoned by the victim's family, right?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: To be pardoned?
Second TV host: Do you go and talk to the victim's family?
Abdallah Al-Bishi: Yes, yes. I intervene in the reconciliation efforts. There are many good people on the scene, who intervene through the authorities or the police. May Allah reward them all. But the first to mediate is me, the executioner on the scene.