On November 16, 2014, the Islamic State killed yet another American citizen, aid-worker Abdulrahman (Peter) Kassig. The video didn’t follow the usual pattern at all. In former videos of the beheading of Western hostages, the victim was dressed in an orange jump suit (referring to the clothing in Guantanamo Bay) and was forced to read out a short statement before being beheaded. This video was entirely different in all aspects.
The video opens with a map of the Islamic State, zooming out to the newly “achieved” territories, playing audio fragments of the several pledges of allegiance from Yemen, the Sinai, Libya and Algeria. The map zooms out further and shows us the IS worldview and aspirations. IS firmly believes that after the conquest of the entire Middle East, they will conquer Rome and al-Andalus (the historical name for the Iberian peninsula). After the re-establishment of the borders of the historical Calpihate; they will turn east and eventually conquer China and Japan. The end-phase will be the conquest of the Americas, referred to as al-Maghrib, the West.
An important section of the video is dedicated to an historical overview of the rise of what we now know as the Islamic State. While in the background the Nasheed Ummaty Qad Laha Fajrun resounds and video stills from the last decade pass by, the narrator names all of the Islamic States principal leader. Starting with Abu Muhammad az-Zarqawi, stressing the pledge of allegiance to Usama bin Laden, all previous names and leaders pass the review. The pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda seems to be mentioned to stress the point that the Islamic State is a legitimate Jihadist organization.
A short interlude stresses the sectarian element in the Islamic States ideology; the current state of Baghdad as a place of Shi’a Islam is lamented. The narrator stresses the intolerable situation as follows: Now Baghdad sees the blackness rise over it day after day and one must not remain in a land in which Abu Bakr and ‘Umar are insulted. (Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were the first of the Rashidun, the four Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad). As images from Salil as-Sawarim 4, ‘ala Manhaj an-Nubuwwa, Tabqa airbase and even Abu Waheeb, killing the Shi’a truck drivers in the desert, pass by, the tone for the video is set.
Enter the most important section of the video; about 18 Syrian officers and pilots (claimed to be kept captive since the fall of Tabqa airbase), all dressed in dark blue jumpsuits, are being led by uniformed, bare-faced fighters of the Islamic State to their execution ground. The convoy is led by a masked, black-clothed man. The man, often referred to as ‘Jihadi John’, since the first beheading videos of American and British citizens, passes by a wooden box and takes out a survival knife. The men behind him follows the lead. All captives are forced to kneel down while their executioners stand behind them.
Then ‘Jihadi John’ addresses the viewer: To Obama, the dog of Rome, today we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar and tomorrow we’ll be slaughtering your soldiers. And with Allah’s permission we will break this final and last crusade. And the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, will begin to slaughter your people in your streets. Then he shouts out bismillah, the soldiers are pushed down to the ground and simultaneously beheaded. For the first time in these official beheading videos the actual process of beheading is filmed in the smallest details. What is remarkable about the executioners is that every single one of them is of a different nationality / ethnicity. When the camera zooms in on a stream of blood, the IS spokesman al-‘Adnani is quoted: Know that we have armies in Iraq and as-Sham of hungry lions whose drink is blood and play is carnage. It has been pointed out that a Belgian, French, British and Australian were amongst the executioners. It is presumed that also an Uzbek and Malaysian fighter were involved. It’s not the identity of these fighters that matters; what IS wants to point out is that the group is multi-national; that their Caliphate makes no difference in nationality nor ethnicity.
After imagery and audio fragments of the last oaths of allegiance a short fragment of al-Baghdadi’s last audio-message is broadcasted, ‘Jihadi John’ picks in again. One would have expected a statement by Kassig as in the previous videos but instead the video takes a strange turn. ‘Jihadi John’ addresses his audience from the town of Dabiq in North-Western Syria, where according to some Hadith the last crusade will be fought. His words are another invitation to open and full scale war from the Islamic State to ‘the West’.
[This is Peter Kassig], the first Crusader to be buried in Dabiq. He doesn’t have much to say, his previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalve.
We say to you Obama, as our Shaykh al-‘Adnani said: ‘You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq. Four years ago we said to you that you were liars. That you had not withdrawn, that you would return, even after some time, you would return. Here you are, you have not withdrawn, rather you hid some of your forces behind your proxies. Your forces will return …, greater in number than ever before. And we remind you of the words of our Shaykh Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi: ‘the spark has been lit here in Iraq and its heat will continue to intensify, by Allah’s permission, until it burns the Crusader army in Dabiq. We are waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.