The latest video from ISIS depicting the killing of accused spies and apostates in grisly and bizarre ways is a twisted message to the world that the terrorist army is carrying out its savagery in accordance with Islamic law, according to analysts.
In the seven-minute, all-Arabic language video released June 23, victims say they have been treated well, but then 15 of 16 men are shown being murdered, some blown up in a car in a drone-style attack, others by being drowned while trapped in a cage and still more lined up on their knees in the desert with explosives detonating around their necks. Experts who analyzed the video shot in Iraq’s Nineveh Province said there is a clear message underlying the carnage: ISIS wants the Muslim world to know it is imprisoning and killing enemies of Islam under its warped interpretation of the Koran.
“While ISIS likes the shock factor, these executions are chosen to show their compliance with sharia law," said Ryan Mauro, national security analyst for the New York-based Clarion Project. "ISIS is acting upon doctrines that say spies and apostates, those who leave Islam, are to be executed.
“They must offer a triptych of executions, each more savage than the last.”
- Veryan Khan, TRAC
“ISIS will argue that these specific methods are justifiable according to Islam as they see it, and that they are not being barbaric just for the sake of it," he added. "Even its executions are an attempt to portray ISIS as the most legitimate followers of Islam.”
The video begins with the captives being interviewed about how well they were treated while held by ISIS, also known as Islamic State, remarkable because the terrorist army is attempting to repair its image, Mauro said.
“The group includes this because it needs to be seen as humane,” Mauro said. “It's hard to believe, but it implies that ISIS recognizes it has a negative image and wants to change that while still remaining brutal.”
The video also shows ISIS has little popular support, and is worried about spies in their midst, Mauro added.
Veryan Khan, editorial director for U.S.-based Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, said ISIS has a template for spy executions: There must be the “confession” and the hostage must remain calm before the execution to demonstrate both Islamic State generosity in their treatment of prisoners as well as the victim’s knowledge they deserve this punishment. As with other videos, hostages are well rehearsed - likely through mock executions - and did not appear to know that this time they would be killed, Khan said.
Because ISIS has already been so brutal in its executions, its leaders need to find new symbolic ways of assassinating to get international attention, Khan said.
“Islamic State’s propaganda machine is so prolific that it has to keep coming up with new ways to shock the world and impress their fan club. This means that they have to up the ante in order to gain more attention for each new release,” Khan said.
“What is shocking is the style of each execution - it is no longer enough to behead, or to behead 21 men simultaneously, to burn them alive, or shoot them in mass firing squads. They must offer a triptych of executions, each more savage than the last,” Khan said.
At the end of the video, there is one lone prisoner left standing in the desert with the decapitated men lying behind him, but no mention of who he is, or why he was spared in this round of slayings.
Khan called the imagery “haunting and ominous.”
“This was a message to both potential and current spies; a message to their fan club that the Islamic State is still very much in charge and handling business as usual; a message to the rest of the world that they are not to be trifled with,” Khan said.
Malia Zimmerman is an award-winning investigative reporter focusing on crime, homeland security, illegal immigration crime, terrorism and political corruption. Follow her on twitter at @MaliaMZimmerman