A beheading video of French hostage Hervé Gourdel was released on September 24, 2014 by the Algerian group Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate). The video is significantly different than the three previous high production Islamic State beheading videos of Americans James Foley and Steve Sotloff and British hostage David Haines. The Algerian jihadist group kidnapped Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountaineering guide, while he was hiking in the Djurdjura National Park in Algeria. They released a video two days prior to the beheading giving France an ultimatum, either stop the aggression against the Islamic State or Gourdel would die within 24-hours. France rejected the ultimatum and the jihadists made good on their threat.
The video begins with a clip of French President Francois Hollande at a press conference announcing strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and then the title appears on the screen. The black flag emblem of the Islamic State flies in the corner throughout. That is where the similarity between the IS videos end. The rest of the content of the beheading video is much more similar to the dozens of other al Qaeda-linked beheading videos that have been posted on the Internet. What distinguishes it from other videos is that the film was edited so that the violent imagery is framed in and softened giving it the appearance of a painting. This portion begins in an outdoor area with Gourdel on his knees with his hands behind his back in front of four armed militants. Their faces are covered except for their eyes. Two jihadists are holding AK47 rifles, one is holding a paper he is reading from and the other is holding a blindfold. There is a sheet behind them with some kind of hand-drawn emblem and other imagery. The ritual execution begins with a statement by Gourdel expressing his love for his family. Then there is the mandatory reading of offenses by one of the jihadists which includes denouncing the actions of the “French criminal crusaders” against Muslims in Algeria, Mali and Iraq and to “avenge the victims in Algeria… and support the caliphate” proclaimed by IS in Iraq and Syria.
There can be no doubt that this is their first beheading. They are all fidgeting and seem to have trouble staying still. Interestingly they are all wearing a black wrist band on their right hands. This is unique to them, perhaps signifying their role as executioners. Gourdel is the bravest person there. He makes his statement and honorably does not show fear. He is not dressed in the orange jumpsuit of the previous victims, most likely because there was not one available. After the statement of offenses is read justifying the execution, the blindfold is quickly placed over his eyes and he is thrown to the ground and held down by two of the men. The jihadist who held the blindfold is the executioner. He pulls the knife out of his shirt and starts to cut his throat. The murder is not shown on the video and was most likely edited out by whoever added the news footage and the Islamic State emblem. The video fades to black and then the four jihadists are standing behind Gourdel’s body whose head has been placed on his chest. This is slightly different than the Islamic State’s forensic beheading signature which has the body facing down and the head on the back. A detail they got wrong. It fades to black again and now a fifth jihadist appears with his foot on the body as a sign of desecration and disrespect while the executioner holds Gourdel’s head in the air, displaying his trophy head to the Islamic State and the world. The fifth jihadist who is quite chubby has his entire head covered with a black cloth, he appears to be the leader. Disconcertingly the loud sound of what must be beautiful birds are chirping in the background throughout the entire ritual execution revealing that the location is probably in or near the Djurdjura National Park which was Gourdel’s hiking destination. This video shows much more violent imagery and for a longer period of time than the Islamic State beheading videos, 32 seconds of proof of death versus ten seconds.
The beheading is a direct response to the Islamic State’s Sept 21, 2014 audio recording that was widely distributed on social media urging jihadists all over the world to attack citizens of Western states, including the U.S., France and their allies. The Algerian jihadists heeded the call to vengeance by kidnapping Hervé Gourdel soon after the Islamic State called on its supporters to harm Europeans. The Soldiers of the Caliphate didn’t just shoot Gourdel; they chose to perform a ritual beheading to increase status with other jihadists and to impress the Islamic State. The beheading of Hervé Gourdel by the obscure new splinter group Jund al-Khilafa was a blood initiation ritual. They earned their stripes and pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with the murder of a French infidel. This is no different than the blood-in gang initiation ritual that requires new members to kill. Even the title of the video “A Message with Blood to the French Government” symbolizes a blood ritual. The Islamic State propaganda audiotape utilizes the language of the streets with loaded words that evoke disrespect and humiliation. The statement entices recruits with the promise of war booty and specifically calls for blood vengeance. Most significantly the Islamic State incites violence by telling their recruits that murder and plunder is sanctioned by Allah, hence murder becomes righteous slaughter.
Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war [the civilian by belonging to a state waging war against the Muslims]. Both of their blood and wealth is legal for you to destroy, for blood does not become illegal or legal to spill by the clothes being worn. The civilian outfit does not make blood illegal to spill, and the military uniform does not make blood legal to spill. The only things that make blood illegal and legal to spill are Islam and a covenant (peace treaty, dhimma, etc.). Blood becomes legal to spill through disbelief. So whoever is a Muslim, his blood and wealth are sanctified. And whoever is a disbeliever, his wealth is legal for a Muslim to take and his blood is legal to spill. His blood is like the blood of a dog; there is no sin for him in spilling it nor is there any blood money to be paid for doing such.
Jihadists are leaving al Qaeda and pledging allegiance to the Islamic state because it is the baddest and richest gang in town. They receive honor, wealth and can morally commit murders. They are absolved of any remorse and in fact achieve honor and status through violence.
The same Islamic State video that inspired the new Algerian group praised another jihadist group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for their beheadings. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State by beheading eight people, videotaping and posting the beheadings online. By praising the beheadings the Islamic State sanctioned the violence and sent a message to others that you too will be honored by beheading our enemies.
A lone wolf also heeded the Islamic State’s call to vengeance. On Sept. 23 an Australian teenager Numan Haider attacked a Victorian police officer and a federal police agent outside Endeavour Hills police station in Melbourne, Australia. The 18-year-old slashed one officer with a knife pretending to shake his hand and stabbed another officer in the arm, stomach and head. He was immediately killed with a single shot. When his body was searched they found a larger knife and an Islamic State flag. It was reported that he was under instructions from the Islamic State to behead the officers, cover their bodies in the IS flag and then take photos to post on social media. Islamic State propaganda inspired all of these beheadings. Their messaging appeals to disaffected young people who feel humiliated and disenfranchised. They provide a method for them to restore their honor and respect through blood vengeance. In their Sept. 21st audiotape, two days prior to stabbing two police officers, the language in the video promised Numan Haider honor in life or death.
An Islamic State soldier… "has realized that the life of his nation is through blood and the honor of his nation is through blood. So he went on with a bare chest and bare head towards death eagerly searching for life and honor. If he survives, he lives as a victor with freedom, might, honor, and authority. And if he is killed, he illuminates the path for those after him and goes on to his Lord as a joyful martyr. He has taught those after him that might, honor, and life are through jihad and being killed, and that humiliation, disgrace, and death are through submission and subservience.”
Pledging allegiance through a ‘blood in’ beheading initiation ritual is the latest phenomenon in the global jihad. The next beheading ritual could be a lone wolf in the United States, Canada or Europe or it could be Philippine jihadists, members of the Abu Sayyaf group who according to a transcript provided by the SITE Institute have announced that it is holding two German citizens and have threatened to kill them if Germany does not back out of the intervention in Syria. Blood-in.
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