Syrian Islamists Carry Out Mock Public Crucifixions in City Square
RAQQA – Islamic militants in the Syrian city of Raqqa carried out two mock crucifixions in the public square this past week, hanging two men accused of fighting Muslims, reports state.
A group called the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) is said to be behind the crucifixions, which occurred on Tuesday. In total, seven prisoners were executed in the city, which were held responsible for a grenade attack on Muslims in the Euphrates Valley. The men were captured by members of the group, some being shot in the head.
“Ten days ago, attackers on a motorbike threw a grenade at an ISIS fighter at the Naim roundabout. A Muslim civilian had his leg blown off and a child was killed,” the group posted on Twitter. “Our fighters immediately set up a roadblock and succeeded in capturing them. They were then able to detain other members of the cell.”
One eyewitness, Abu Ibrahim, posted photographs of the crucifixions on the popular social media site. The men were reportedly already dead when they were tied to metal poles with makeshift wooden crosses attached. Their faces were blindfolded and covered with blood. One man had a banner wrapped around his torso, which read, “This man fought against Muslims and threw a grenade in this place.”
“What they are conveying is those who oppose ISIS rule oppose God’s rule, and those who are enemies of ISIS are enemies of God and deserve the highest form of punishment possible,” Abbas Barzegar, assistant professor of Islamic studies at Georgia State University, told CNN.
Online comments from terrorist groups applauded the crucifixion displays, with one writing, “lol become new false Jesus,” according to the Daily Beast.
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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that Tuesday’s execution was not the first public crucifixion carried out by ISIS, as as the group also crucified a shepherd who had allegedly committed theft against a Muslim.
“These violent acts are part of a fundamentalist revival campaign, but these forms of ancient punishment were rarely if ever seen in the Muslim world in recent centuries,” Barzegar says. “It has become a standard feature of fringe Islamist groups to revive these outdated practices in an effort to bring back what they believe is authentic.”
Abu Irahim told reporters that life in Raqqa is difficult under Islamic rule.
“Life here is very hard. People are tired and they hate everything,” he stated. “If you don’t close your shop during prayer time you get lashes, if you smoke you get lashed, if you say one wrong thing you can be executed. Just like that. It’s that easy for ISIS.”
Islamic Extremists Now Crucifying People in Syria—and Tweeting Out the Pictures
The jihadist group so radical it got kicked out of al Qaeda has apparently hit a new and shocking low: It’s allegedly crucifying its enemies.
Among the forms of slaughter that have become commonplace in Syria’s civil war, crucifixion may be no more brutal than barrel bombs or sarin gas attacks. But the revival of an ancient form of torture is one sign of what life is like under the rule of one of Syria’s powerful Islamist factions. And it’s an indication that, despite years of public hand-wringing in the West over Syria’s bloody and rapid decline, the country is continuing to plummet into new depths of the abyss.
Below the photo of a crucified body, the message on a jihadist Twitter account reads, “We just executed 7 spies trying to plant bombs on cars of the ikhwa. Massive turnout.” The person behind the account, which is not being linked here to prevent driving traffic to a jihadist site, claims to be a member of the Islamic State in Iraq and the ash-Sham (ISIS), an Islamist group that was repudiated by al Qaeda in early 2014, in part for being so extremist that they became a “liability to the al-Qaeda brand,” according to Aaron Zelin, a jihadi-watcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
One of the earliest mentions of the crucifixions in Raqqa came from Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a student at Oxford University and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Al-Tamimi reported the executions and posted a photo of one of the crucified men 4 minutes before the tweet from the self-identified ISIS account. Given that the account claiming to be affiliated with ISIS posted its tweet only minutes after Al-Tamimi's, and used similar wording without offering any new details, it may have come from someone trying to falsely imply a personal involvement in the executions.
The dead man in the photo hangs limply from a makeshift crucifix; blood stains the wooden plank to which his outstretched arms are bound. The black stripe of a blindfold covers his eyes. A young boy stands feet from the strung-up body, at the front of a crowd gathered around the cross.
Another photo of a different man’s crucifixion shows a similar scene. In that image too, a young boy stands only feet from a lifeless corpse bound to a cross and publicly displayed.
It’s unclear whether those killed belonged to pro-regime factions or were members of other anti-Assad Islamist groups that have been warring with ISIS for control in Syria.
Images of the crucifixion have been spreading over social media since Tuesday morning, pushed out both by anti-ISIS accounts to show the group’s brutality, and by proud members of ISIS who view the public crucifixions as a sign of their strength and an effective recruiting tool.
Congratulatory messages quickly appeared beneath the original tweet announcing the executions in Raqqa and displaying the crucifixion. Another jihadist Twitter account, fluent in both English and Internet-speak, responded to the photo with gloating congratulations and a quip about the image of the murdered man, “lol become new false jesus.” Egged on, the original poster replied “the spy next to him started urinating as soon as we tied him up, about 10 minutes after he was killed.”One jihadist twitter account commented on the crucifixion, ‘LOL become new false jesus.’ Another replied, “the spy next to him started urinating as soon as we tied him up.’
Raqqa, where the crucifixions reportedly occurred, was the first Syrian province the Assad regime lost to the rebels when ISIS took control of the area in 2013. Since planting the black flag of extremist Islam, ISIS has placed Raqqa under its repressive rule. Earlier this year, the small Christian community remaining in Raqqa received an ultimatum from ISIS leaders demanding that they pay a tax and submit to a set of prescriptive rules in exchange for a guarantee of their safety. In an official statement ISIS claimed to have met with Raqqa’s Christian leaders and presented them with three choices: conversion to Islam, accepting the restrictions placed on them, or death.
The executions reported to have taken place on Tuesday were not the first crucifixions carried out by ISIS since it took control of Raqqa. They were only the first after this year’s Easter celebration. Last month, the group publicly crucified an accused thief.
The crucifixions appear to document ISIS’s barbaric idea of justice and the group’s use of terrorism, staging brutal symbolic acts of violence, to maintain the complete obedience of the populace under its rule. The crucifixions may be disturbing to Western eyes because of their Biblical resonance. But the gruesome scene may be even more symbolically potent to the Muslim residents of Raqqa as a message about what happens to those that ISIS judges against.
Any one individual victim’s death is final. But the image of bodies hanging on crosses in the center of town serves as ongoing reminder about ISIS’s power and a warning.
CORRECTION: This story misidentified the origin of a tweet and attributed it to an ISIS member when it actually came from Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a student at Oxford University who has no affiliation with ISIS. We regret the error.