The Secret of Islamic State’s beheading videos revealed

ADo these two characters remind you of anyone? At first glance, you might think that the two images above document the gruesome death of the latest victim of Islamic State. But you’d be wrong. They are screen shots I took of an episode of the Turkish TV action drama Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu (Valley of the Wolves Ambush), episode 230. The show focuses on the adventures of a Turkish agent working under an assumed identity to infiltrate the Turkish mafia. This episode was filmed earlier this year, certainly before the dramatized beheadings of Foley, Sotloff, et. al. by ‘Jihadi John’.

Let’s note some apparent similarities and differences between this television drama and the ‘Jihadi John’ show:

  • The characters are arranged in the same way. The orange-suited prisoner is on his knees to the left and the dark-clad would-be executioner is to his left. The lead characters are always frame-right on television and in movies (the 180 degree rule).
  • Their body language is the same. Stoic prisoner looking his death straight in the face (forgoing a blindfold); menacing  executioner, gleaming knife in his left hand.
  • Let’s look at that executioner more closely.
    • The same American style boots as Jihadi John.
    • The knife, of course, held in much the same way. It appears as if both executioners are left-handed, but there is a reason for that. Since the knife takes the lead role in these scenes it has to be frame-right and that means they must hold it in their left hand. They don’t actually have to be left-handed because the hand does no actual beheading.
    • The gun is positioned on the left in both cases (see above explanation re the knife). Both guns are held in very similar shoulder-harnesses (over both shoulders).
    • Their face coverings are very similar. We can see the eyes but not the mouth.
    • His apparel is a shade lighter than that of Jihadi John.
    • The skin colour of the Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu executioner looks pretty similar to that of ‘Jihadi John’, although he is a little more portly and less athletic looking than JJ.
  • The wind is different. This is a real wind. The IS wind came from a wind machine. This real wind effects their clothing as real winds do—in different ways at different times.
  • The camera angles are similar. Full frontal and from the side.
  • The Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu back ground has depth. The eye senses that these characters could walk into the distance. The IS videos lack this quality.
  • and so on.

All in all, the made-for-television beheading scene looks more real than the ‘real’ ones of the Islamic State.

Well, what an amazing coincidence—talk about life imitating art! Perhaps it’s an example of the infinite monkey theorem: give a monkey a typewriter and enough time, its random keystrokes will eventually create the entire works of Shakespeare. Some times random events coalesce in recognizable forms. There are a lot of actors, Guantanamo-style prisoner uniforms and scary Jihadi costumes out there just waiting for chance to come along.

Or perhaps the IS director is a devotee of Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu (for devout Islamic State stalwarts have to relax sometime) and took the view that imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism. And since these beheading videos are mini-works of art, what’s the harm in borrowing a few ideas from Turkish television? How was the director to know that someone in the West would actually watch that stuff?

If only there were scope for humour here, but there isn’t. People are maimed, killed and rendered homeless because of this sort of deception. Let us recall that the US ‘intelligence community’ has vouched for the authenticity of these IS beheading videos. (No one would be foolish enough to put their name to this vouching).

Well we don’t have to prostrate ourselves before ‘intelligence’. University professors, their students and tax-paying citizens get to have a say on this too. This one vouches that:

  • no one is beheaded in these videos (they may have been killed in other ways, but I suspect not)
  • these videos are works of military deception aimed not at some external enemy but at public opinion—me and you (an internal enemy)
  • they work through emotional manipulation of those consuming them
  • they are designed to get ‘us’ to do something we would not otherwise do, such as supporting particular forms of military intervention in the Middle East, in the first instance, in Iraq and Syria.
  • they are also intended to disguise what is actually happening ‘on the ground’, by whom and why (I will return to this in a future post)

The close working relationship between the Pentagon and Hollywood is well documented (see, for example, David L. Robb, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, 2004), but all militaries use what help they can get and where one military ends and another begins these days is not always easy to say. It’s all smoke and mirrors, deceit and treachery.

All the above suggests that any serious investigators wanting to know what actually happened to Foley, Sotloff, Haines, Henning, Cantlie and company would focus their attention on the people involved in creating this scene from Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu.

Dr. Richard Marsden


I took the above screen shots from the following episode of Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu, between 1:01:30 – 1:02:30. Check for yourself and see the context of these shots.