Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “Caliph” of the terrorist group Islamic State, has reportedly issued an edict limiting the kind of graphic material that may appear in ISIS propaganda, out of concern that Muslims who would otherwise be inclined to join the cult change their minds after being “disgusted” by extensive depictions of beheadings.
Al-Baghdadi, whose whereabouts remain unknown, reportedly issued the command to the heads of Islamic State propaganda offices this weekend. Arabic publication Al-Quds Al-Arabi cites a source within the organization confirming the edict, which allegedly states that propaganda outlets, which should be working to recruit men and women to both fight for and peacefully populate the Islamic State, should “take into account the feelings of all the Muslims and children that are likely to find the scenes disgusting.”
The International Business Times reports that this is not an outright ban on beheading videos, which have become a staple of the terrorist group’s propaganda style. Instead, al-Baghdadi allegedly urges that videos “show the initial slitting of the prisoner’s throat and the final scene of the victim’s head placed on the body.”
Some reports claim that this declaration is not being taken especially positively by enthusiasts of beheading videos, who view them as necessary to intimidate the West. Others are clear in noting that such a change should not be taken as an indication that ISIS is taking a more sensitive turn but, rather, that its leadership is worried that it is only attracting brutal murderers, and that they need to widen their appeal to build the state they wish to establish.
“Instead of banning the release of such videos, Baghdadi should have rather banned the crimes behind the scenes. But he has already justified the barbarism of his followers, and his decision makes no sense,” Ferid Hisso, a Syrian politician, told ARA News.
Since the establishment of the “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq in 2014, the Islamic State has been plagued by a lack of professionals with necessary skills to keep a state running. While the graphic violence portrayed in their numerous propaganda videos has been hugely successful in attracting young Western Muslim men with little to no education, engineers, doctors, architects, and other professionals have been harder to convince.
In response to this dearth of professional talent, the Islamic State has released propaganda videos targeting doctors and large families to live in the Islamic State under Sharia law, but not necessarily enter the battlefield.
That is not to say the beheading videos have stopped surfacing online. The most recent, perhaps the most gruesome, shows a young boy beheading a man— the first child beheading in an Islamic State video. The Islamic State has recently ramped up the level of gore in their videos, showing mass beheadings and beheadings of women.
Beheading propaganda videos were the source of at least one Islamic State terrorist’s celebrity: “Jihadi John,” the man tasked with beheading American captives later identified as 26-year-old former Londoner Mohammed Emwazi. Emwazi has reportedly fled to Libya following the reveal of his identity and has not appeared in any videos since.