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ICG Risk Blog - [ Beheading, torture and violation as a means of conferring legitimacy in Mujahideen Shura Council succession ]

Beheading, torture and violation as a means of conferring legitimacy in Mujahideen Shura Council succession

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Thoughts on the early data on the appalling death suffered by two abducted US soldiers:

The manner in which the attack was carried out on a small US unit manning a traffic checkpoint, separating them into yet two smaller bite-sized elements, suggests excellent surveillance and a feint to draw off troops and isolate the trio for capture. It may be coincident but I believe that this attack was a specific, planned response to the killing of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi.

The soldiers' cause of death was not directly related to combat wounds sustained in their capture but rather post-capture treatment that apparently transcended prior levels of torture and decapitation, i.e., the mistreatment of the bodies was extreme, a new high watermark.

If it is true that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, aka Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the "successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" had "slaughtered" the two soldiers (the word used, "nahr," was consistent with beheading), it strikes me as an interesting, albeit gruesome, gambit to capture legitimacy for al-Masri while reinvigorating the masses. (The pair's capture is already being heralded as a "weakness of U.S. intelligence.")

Whoever did the killings, or orchestrated them, may not be al-Masri, based upon traffic from Islamic extremist Internet message boards and chat rooms. In what could be an excellent disinformation campaign, "No one appears to know who this guy (al-Muhajir) is." Continuing the idea that Mujahideen Shura Council followers do not need to know his name, it is likely enough that the individual picks up the reins from Zarqawi, thus the killings still convey prestige. (The Mujahideen Shura Council is composed of eight insurgency groups in Iraq: al-Qaeda in Iraq, Victorious Army Group, the Army of al-Sunnah Wal Jama’a, Jama’a al-Murabiteen, Ansar al-Tawhid Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, the Strangers Brigades, and the Horrors Brigades.)

While no one has mentioned the possibility of the beheading/mutilations being filmed, I would be surprised only if they had not been filmed - which begs the issue of when and how those filrms are released. Zarqawi took responsibility for the beheadings of US national Nicholas Berg and Korean Kim Sun-il, and was said to have carried out the decapitations. Filming al-Masri or whomever assumes command would place him in the same pantheon as Zarqawi.

If the filming assumption is true, then are the insurgents hoping for a secondary goal of a US overreaction with subsequent fallout from Iraqi/Sunni populace when the films are released? (I am remembering the Marine response at the Tenaru River on Guadalcanal. Had there been embeds at the  time, there might have been a different response.)

The manner in which the bodies were made relatively visible for discovery, but with IEDs placed on the road leading to the bodies as well as around/near the body, showed great planning to extract maximum damage from the recovery teams intent on retrieving fallen comrades.

Overall, the attack on the traffic unit appears to be a thoughtfully planned operation. I am surprised that so few US personnel have been kidnapped and executed to date. This form of fatal kidnapping could emerge as a new escalation in insurgent technique. Major General William Caldwell noted that "the U.S. military was studying the techniques that insurgents use in capturing and holding U.S. soldiers":

"A great many coalition security personnel continue to study the different kidnapping techniques that are being utilized by these different anti-Iraqi elements and tactics and techniques that they use as they continue to do this," he said. "We are all very much aware of the atrocities that they commit, not only by the foreign fighters [but also by] some of the indigenous groups with their victims that they take into their custody. It pains us to realize what fellow service members may go through and other American citizens."

U.S. Says 2 Bodies Retrieved in Iraq Were Brutalized
By DEXTER FILKINS
New York Times
June 21, 2006

The Mujahideen Shura Council Announces the Execution of the Captured Russian Diplomats
By SITE Institute
June 21, 2006

Confusion swirls over Zarqawi successor
By Shaun Waterman
Monsters and Critics
United Press International
Jun 20, 2006, 10:05 GMT

Iraq: Abducted U.S. Soldiers' Bodies Believed Found
RFL/RL (compiled from agency reports)
June 20, 2006

Al-Qaeda Group Claims It Abducted U.S. Soldiers In Iraq
(Reuters/AP)
RFE/RL
June 19, 2006

Iraq: Is Al-Qaeda Trying To Assert Control Over Insurgency?
By Andrew Tully
RFE/RL
June 16, 2006

'Beginning Of The End' For Al-Qaeda In Iraq
AFP (Reuters, AFP, AP)
June 15, 2006

Iraq: What Does Al-Zarqawi's Death Mean?
RFE/RL
June 8, 2006

Iraq: Sunni Insurgents Turning Against Al-Zarqawi
By Kathleen Ridolfo
RFE/RL
January 26, 2006

Middle East: Extremists Opting For Beheading As Weapon Of Choice In Terror War
By Charles Recknagel
RFE/RL
24 June 2004

Iraq: Beheading Of U.S. Civilian Stokes Image War
By Charles Recknagel
RFE/RL
May 12, 2004

Terrorists Kill Hostage In Revenge For Iraqi Prisoners
RFE/RL
May 11, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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