Beheadings As A Terror Tactic

Recent videos showing the brutal deaths of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff shocked and outraged Americans, but the use of beheadings by terrorists is not a new phenomenon, reports Politico.

Robert A, Pape, Michael Rowley and Sarah Morell of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism contend that ISIS’ use of beheadings, however, are utilized for means beyond simply instilling terror in Westerners.

“The common misperception is that these beheadings are meant only to intimidate the West. On the contrary, beheadings are a deliberate strategy — one successfully employed in 2004 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al Qaida in Iraq, ISIL’s predecessor organization, with the beheading of American Nick Berg — to improve recruitment efforts and build military strength to fight its enemies in Iraq and Syria.”

In fact, beheadings are not uncommon throughout history. From John the Baptist to Marie Antoinette, and, more recently, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, it is a mode of murder that has been employed for a variety of reasons.

Tom Sanderson, co-director of Transnational Threats Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told PBS recently that one reason is to inspire terror, while the other is “certainly about the empowerment both for themselves and for those young men they are trying to recruit.”

As successful as ISIS has been in inspiring fear in Westerners and loyalty among its recruits, the use of beheadings can be a double-edged sword.

Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), argues that “such excessive and indiscriminate violence” was what led to the demise of ISIS’ precursor, al-Qaida in Iraq.

What differentiates ISIS from other terrorist groups is they show no reluctance to behead women and children.

“And ISIS has taken it to where they have almost devolved into a more primal form where they are literally doing — beheading like 50 people at a time and putting their heads on display. And prior to ISIS, you didn’t see children and women being beheaded either. So they have definitely changed the level of violence,” Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Symbol Intelligence Group, said in an August interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

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