Islamic extremists in Syria have executed more than 3,000 people in the past year, and this week they added to the death toll by beheading two women after accusing them of witchcraft and sorcery, a rights watch group says.
The women’s husbands also were executed — the latest in a long line of barbaric killings carried out by the terror group that has drawn international condemnation.
This marks the first time women have been executed for witchcraft by the group. But in February militants beheaded an elderly man for allegedly “invoking magic” in a village west of Raqqa, IS headquarters. That killing was witnessed by a large crowd of onlookers, and photographs of the execution were posted on social media accounts associated with IS supporters.
SOHR weighs in
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR], a London-based rights group that relies on activists for its information, reports the women and their husbands were killed over the weekend — the first couple on Sunday in Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria, and the second in al-Mayadin on Monday.
Rami Abdel Rahman, SOHR’s head, said it was “the first time his monitoring group had documented women being beheaded” by the extremists.
Kurdish defenders of the Syrian border town of Kobani, however, accused IS fighters of beheading one of their female fighters last year, although it isn’t clear whether the fighter was decapitated after being killed in a firefight.
In October, as IS forces closed on Kobani, there also were accusations the extremists beheaded seven men and three women to frighten locals to give in to their offensive.
The witchcraft allegations are bizarre even for a terror group immersed in a Dark Age view of the world. The Quran does contain references to evil spirits and the evil eye, and it says witchcraft and sorcery are condemned by Allah, but it adds that those who practice witchcraft or sorcery cannot harm people against the will of God.
The Quran does not ordain capital punishment for sorcery, nor does it mention punishment except to say offenders will be denied a place in the hereafter.
Last autumn, Iraq’s public broadcaster started airing a sitcom lampooning the gratuitous violence of radical Islam. The satire, called State of Superstition, set out to ridicule the violent extremist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as a gang of misfits with the al-Baghdadi-inspired character named the "Beheader."
The terror group has in the past stoned women to death or shot women on allegations of adultery. SOHR says of the 3,000 people the terror group has executed, 800 were civilians, including 86 women and 74 children. The group also has killed men for homosexuality.
Rami Abdul Rahman, from the monitoring group, said the executions of the alleged witches likely were carried out to terrify the local population and to keep it cowed and subservient. That often is done through its treatment of women.
ISIS has been accused of sexually brutalizing women in the self-declared caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. In August 2014, IS distributed 300 captured Yazidi women to its fighters in Syria, according to local activists. The women were considered by the group as Sabaya [spoils of war].
Nazand Begikhani, an adviser to the Kurdistan regional government and researcher at the University of Bristol Gender and Violence Research Center, estimates IS kidnapped more than 2,500 Yazidi women after they were separated from male relatives, who were shot.
Some Yazidi women have managed to escape or IS has ransomed them off. But Yazidi women still are being traded, according to SOHR — 40 recently in the city of al-Mayadin, with the purchase price ranging from $500 to $2,000.
In Raqqa, as opposed to other towns in territory controlled by IS, activists say the extremists have been noticeably reducing the number of public executions for transgressions of its moral code.
Amir Salamah, who served until a month ago as a Red Crescent worker in Raqqa, said he believes the extremists are anxious for civilians to stay in the city and not to flee, seeing them as a possible protection from coalition airstrikes.
“They are not killing the people in the way they were in the pubic squares,” he said. “They want to use them as human shields.”
He said killings are continuing, but are being done more secretively, with the bodies being disposed of in a pit in the north of the city.
Another activist group, a network that goes by the name Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, said IS has mounted a vigorous campaign to root out dissidents and has increased its surveillance of Internet cafes in the city.