Tag Archives: Hervé Gourdel

Hunting Season – The story of ISIS Hostages & their Captivity

Hunting Season

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James Harkin

James Harkin’s The Execution of James Foley , Islamic State and the Real Story of the Kidnapping Campaign that Started a War.


In recent years the rise and at times almost unbelievable acts of brutality perpetuated by Islamic State and their deluded followers have dominated global News and shocked and sickened all right minded people the world over. The capture, torture and eventual beheading of Western hostages – often played out on social media in grotesque and gut retching details demonstrated that a new kind of terrorist stalks the corridors of modern times and their capacity for cruelty seems to know no boundaries .

In a few short years Islamic State have surpassed all previous terrorist groups for the sheer wickedness of their twisted ideology and their complete disregard for the sanctity of human life and sadly countless innocent people have died at the hands of these merchants of death.

The Islamic State’s ( and other terrorist groups ) policy of kidnapping has a long and profitable history in and around the middle East and other stomping grounds of IS and their terrorist franchise and yet the world and in particularly the West were largely ignorant of these actions until Western hostages started being publically displayed and beheaded by the mad men of IS.

Suddenly Islamic State were centre stage and the world watched in horror as one after the other the American and British hostages were paraded in front of a stunned worldwide audience and slaughtered in the most barbaric and senseless way possible.

James Harkin’s book Hunting Season takes us on a journey through the history and background of these kidnappings and is a must read for those interested in the rise and history of Islamic State and their shocking crimes.

The grief and hopelessness of the families of those in captivity destined to die in the wastelands of Islamic State’s backyard is heart breaking and the disgraceful lack of support from their respective governments should shame the politicians to the core.

Packed with background information about the kidnappings and conditions the hostages had to endure this book had me gripped from the first page and I read it in two days flat and was left with a bad taste in my mouth and full of sympathy for the families of those so brutally murdered.


On 19 August 2014, a member of the jihadist rebel group known as ISIS uploaded a video to YouTube. Entitled ‘Message to America’, the clip depicted the final moments of the life of kidnapped American journalist James Foley – and the gruesome aftermath of his beheading at the hands of a masked executioner. Foley’s murder – and the other choreographed killings that would follow – captured the world’s attention, and Islamic State’s campaign of kidnapping exploded into regional war.

Based on three years of on-the-ground reporting from every side of the Syrian conflict, Hunting Season is James Harkin’s quest to uncover the truth about how and why Islamic State came to target Western hostages, who was behind it and why almost no one outside a small group of people knew anything about it until it was too late. He reveals how the campaign of kidnapping and the development of Islamic State were joined at the hip from the beginning. The book is an utterly absorbing account of the world’s newest and most powerful terror franchise and what it means for modern war.


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Beheading in Islam

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

Beheading was a standard method of execution in pre-modern Islamic law, as well as in pre-modern European law. Its use had been abandoned in most countries by the end of the 20th century. Currently, it is used only in Saudi Arabia. It also remains a legal method of execution in Iran, Qatar and Yemen, where it is no longer in use.

In recent times, non-state Jihadist organization such as ISIL and Tawhid and Jihad use or have used beheadings. Since 2002, they have circulated beheading videos as a form of terror and propaganda. Their actions have been condemned by other militant and terrorist groups, and well as by mainstream Islamic scholars and organizations.


Beheading in Islamic scripture

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Two surahs which refer to “smiting the neck” of enemies are cited by the terrorists who argue that the Quran commands beheading:

When the Lord inspired the angels (saying) I am with you. So make those who believe stand firm. I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger.

Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom ’til the war lay down its burdens.

Scholars disagree about whether these surah refer specifically to beheading, but they are in agreement that they refer to killing the enemy by striking at the neck. Terrorists who use them to justify beheadings take them out of context.

Surah 47:4 goes on to recommend generosity or ransom when waging war. Furthermore, it refers to a period when Muslims were persecuted and had to fight for their survival.

Justification for beheading has also been drawn from the Siras and Hadiths. In one account, Muhammad is said to have ordered the beheading of at least six hundred males from the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe, while another states that he was merely present and watched the beheadings and mass burial. There is no agreement among scholars as to the historical accuracy of this and similar accounts from the life of Muhammad.

Beheading in Islamic law

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Beheading was the normal method of executing the death penalty under classical Islamic law. It was also, together with hanging, one of the ordinary methods of execution in the Ottoman Empire.

Currently, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which uses decapitation within its Islamic legal system.

The majority of executions carried out by the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia are public beheadings, which usually cause mass gatherings but are not allowed to be photographed or filmed.

Beheading is reported to have been carried out by state authorities in Iran as recently as 2001, but as of 2014 is no longer in use. It is also a legal form of execution in Qatar and Yemen, but the punishment has been suspended in those countries.

Historical occurrences

Modern use by non-state actors

Modern instances of Islamist beheading date at least to the First Chechen War (1994–96), and to the beheading of Yevgeny Rodionov, a Russian soldier who refused to convert to Islam, whose subsequent beheading has led some within the Russian Orthodox Church to venerate him as a martyr.

The 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl by Al-Qaeda member Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan drew international attention enhanced by the release of a beheading video.

Jihadist organization such as ISIL and Tawhid and Jihad use or have used beheadings. Since 2002, they have been mass circulating beheading videos as a form of terror and propaganda.

Beheadings have emerged as a terror tactic in Iraq since 2003. Civilians have borne the brunt of the beheadings, although U.S. and Iraqi military personnel have also been targeted. After kidnapping the victim, the kidnappers typically make some sort of demand of the government of the hostage’s nation and give a time limit for the demand to be carried out, often 72 hours. Beheading is often threatened if the government fails to heed the wishes of the hostage takers. Frequently the crude beheadings are videotaped and made available on the Internet. One of the most publicized murders of an American was that of Nick Berg.

Since 2004 insurgents in South Thailand began to sow fear in attacks where men and women of the local Buddhist minority were beheaded. On 18 July 2005 two militants entered a teashop in South Thailand, shot Lek Pongpla, a Buddhist cloth vendor, beheaded him and left the head outside of the shop.

According to Peter R. Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London, viral beheading videos are intended, and are at least somewhat effective, as a recruiting tool for jihad among both Western and Middle Eastern youth. Other observers argue that while Al Qaeda initially used beheading as a publicity tool, it later decided that they caused Muslims to recoil from Islamism and that although ISIS/IS is enthusiastically deploying beheading as a tactic in 2014, it, too, may find that the tactic backfires.

Timothy R. Furnish, as Assistant Professor of Islamic History, contrasts the Saudi government executions, conforming to standards that minimize pain, with the non-state actors who have “chosen a slow, torturous sawing method to terrorize the Western audience.”

ISIL beheading incidents

In January 2015, a copy of an ISIL penal code surfaced describing the penalties it enforces in areas under its control, including beheadings. Beheading videos have been frequently posted by ISIL members to social media.

Several of the videoed beheadings were conducted by Mohammed Emwazi, whom the media had referred to as “Jihadi John” before his identification.

The beheadings received wide coverage around the world and attracted international condemnation. Political scientist Max Abrahms posited that ISIL may be using well-publicized beheadings as a means of differentiating itself from Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and identifying itself with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda member who beheaded Daniel Pearl.

The publicised beheadings represent a small proportion of a larger total of people killed following capture by ISIL.

Condemnation by Muslims

Mainstream Islamic scholars and organizations around the world, as well as militant and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda have condemned the practice.


Why Public Beheadings Get Millions of Views



Daniel Pearl

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U.S. citizen, beheaded February 1, 2002, in Pakistan by al-Qaeda jihadists




James Foley

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U.S. citizen, beheaded August 19, 2014, south of Raqqah, Syria by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant jihadists

Steven Sotloff

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U.S. citizen, beheaded in August 2014, south of Raqqah, Syria by ISIL jihadists

David Cawthorne Haines

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U.K. citizen, beheaded in September 2014 in Syria by ISIL jihadists

Hervé Gourdel

French citizen, beheaded in September 2014, east of Algiers, Algeria by Jund al-Khilafah jihadists supporting ISIL.

Alan Henning


U.K. citizen, beheaded in October 2014, in Syria by ISIL jihadists

Peter Kassig

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U.S, citizen beheaded in November 2014, in Dabiq, Aleppo, Syria by ISIL jihadists

Eighteen Syrian soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army, beheaded in November 2014, in Dabiq, Aleppo, Syria by ISIL jihadists


Haruna Yukawa

Japanese citizen, beheaded in January 2015 by ISIL jihadists.

Kenji Goto

Japanese citizen, beheaded in January 2015 near Raqqa, Syria, by ISIL jihadists.

Twenty–one Egyptian Coptic Christians, beheaded in February 2015 near Tripoli, Libya, by ISIL jihadists

Twenty–eight Ethiopian Christians, beheaded in Libya in April 2015 by ISIL jihadists

A video (article published July 2015) shows a boy executing a Syrian soldier using a knife, while within Palmyra.

Four Kurdish Pershmerga members, beheaded in Iraq in October 2015 by ISIL jihadists

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