Nightclubs, restaurants, bars, vacation beaches and concert halls have all been targeted by militants in the West, either directed or inspired by the Islamic State (IS) terror group. But in the Orlando, Florida massacre on Sunday, young gay revelers were specifically targeted in a homophobic rampage.
Analysts fear that the Pulse nightclub won’t be the last gay venue in the West to be targeted by militants. “Nightclubs have been considered as easy soft targets for jihadists for a while,” says Olivier Guitta, managing director at GlobalStrat, a security and geopolitical risk consulting firm. He points out that in February, some IS followers were arrested in France for planning terror attacks on nightclubs.
Such attacks are an easy score for IS. “They can just inspire followers to carry out terror attacks and claim credit,” Guitta adds, without having any operational involvement.
The slaughter at Pulse follows two years of persecution and killing of gays in territory controlled by IS in the group’s self-styled caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq.
Gays have been stoned and thrown off high buildings with locals encouraged to witness the medieval-style barbarity. On occasion, locals have joined in the stoning of gays.
Just last month IS propagandists posted a series of photos of the public execution of an alleged homosexual in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. The photo report released on May 7 was titled, “these are the limits [set by] Allah, so do not approach them.”
Choreographed executions of gays
Public executions in IS-controlled Territory, and the posting of the atrocities on the Web, serve to terrorize locals into strict obedience with the group’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law and to terrify and demoralize rivals.
Analysts say that it also boosts the group’s notoriety, in bizarre fashion, by helping it recruit people attracted to its carefully cultivated aura of righteous power.
But the murder of gays has been especially relished by IS propagandists. Homosexuality is anathema to the terror group and the jihadists have run elaborate sting operations in the "caliphate" seeking to entrap gays. At times, IS has expended as much effort in identifying gays as it has in rooting out political dissidents, say anti-IS activists.
The killings of gays are choreographed with much attention to detail.
In April 2015, the jihadists staged in northern Syria a particularly macabre stoning to death of two alleged gay men, embracing the victims before murdering them. The set of four still photographs showed two blindfolded men standing side-by-side in a desert clearing while a group of IS partisans and supporters, some leaning on motorbikes, gathered to watch the killing.
One victim with curly hair, a beard and wearing a gray leather jacket appeared to accept his fate as a killer rested his hand on his shoulder. He may well have been given a cocktail of drugs by the jihadists, something they are known to have done with others earmarked for death to calm them before execution.
A second photograph in the sequence shows executioners hugging the men. In the last image, tweeted by known IS supporters, the battered, prostrate bodies of the victims are seen being showered with rocks hurled by four killers.
The photographs of the hugs the jihadists gave the condemned gay couple went viral on the Internet, prompting outrage in the West. Tweeting explanations, IS supporters said the embraces were meant as gestures of forgiveness and to show their executioners were helping the victims to atone for their supposed crimes.
Last August, gay men who had managed to flee Syria and Iraq briefed members of the U.N. Security Council on the chilling truth of gay life under the militants. They explained that IS wasn’t the only group they feared. Not to be outdone, the IS’s jihadist rivals, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, also target gays for killing, they explained.
Subhi Nahas, a Syrian man who fled to Lebanon and then Turkey, says that when al-Nusra militants took control of his home town of Idlib, they too hunted down men thought to be gay. Once they had a suspect, he says, they would systematically torture him before killing him.
“This was to be my fate, too,” he told an informal meeting of the Security Council organized by the U.S. and Chile to focus attention on the brutal attacks by the jihadists on LGBT people.
“I was terrified to go out,” he said. “Nor was my home safe, as my father, who suspiciously monitored my every move, had learned I was gay. I bear a scar on my chin as a token of his rage,” he added.
The staging and method of execution of gays, and of other victims, are not only meant to send gruesome propaganda messages. They are dictated also by the jihadists’ interpretation of religious rulings by favored scholars, who detail methods of killing to fit the alleged infraction.
IS and al-Nusra supporters have even argued in the past about the "correct" way of killing those they deem offenders.
The details as of Monday are unclear, but that kind of talk may have inspired an Orlando man to slaughter dozens of random people.