CAIRO: After the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff shocked many western audiences, militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis released a number of graphic images of Egyptian soldiers as well as civilians they murdered over the past several months. But in what some have seen as a gruesome game of tit-for-tat, this week the Egyptian military for the first time released images of accused militants it had killed, including images of bloodied corpses and their alleged gun caches.
Also, graphic media from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the Islamic State (IS) has been published by private Egyptian news websites, in which militants show the public their “ruthlessness with the enemy.”
“The image of soldiers in a prone position, being shot or beheaded, this is the image that [perpetrators] want to promote to inflict horror and fear in some people. As if the fate of anyone facing those terrorists is to have his head hanging from one of their hands,” said well-known journalist Ibrahim Eissa on his ONTV show on Aug. 19, adding that media is “being used as a bridge to promote and instill a specific image in people’s minds.”
Military posts pictures of dead ‘terrorists’
Military spokesperson Mohamed Samir posted Wednesday a picture of an alleged terrorist lying dead with a pool of blood around his head, and a grenade, gun and motorcycle next to him. Other pictures included seized weapons and drugs, a discovered tunnel and arrested alleged smugglers.
The first time a state source published pictures of gore was when Samir on Sept. 4 posted explicit pictures of dead alleged terrorists lying next to grenades, machineguns and walkie-talkies after they were fatally shot from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 in different governorates.
News websites, except government-owned ones, were quick to share the pictures, which show the alleged takfirists killed with bullets to the head and back.
“Only print newspapers fall within our jurisdiction, according to the Egyptian law. There are no rules regulating the work of news websites, even those that belong to print newspapers,” Diaa Rashwan, head of the Press Syndicate, told The Cairo Post.
“Readers have the right to know, and news outlets should document their stories, but without horrifying or hurting the feelings of their viewers,” Rashwan said.
The military spokesperson’s move followed a post by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis Sept. 3 video of an armored police vehicle being struck with a landmine, an attack that took place in Sinai a day earlier and killed 11 policemen.
“A sophisticated anti-tank mine was used in the attack, and when the policemen tried to escape from the vehicle, they were met with a hail of bullets. They meant to kill, and kill with cruelty,” military expert and political science professor Mahmoud Abdel Zaher told The Cairo Post Tuesday.
Ansar’s video made a spectacle of the officers’ belongings, IDs and weapons the same way security forces typically displayed militants’ seized items before they also started displaying corpses.
“Posting those pictures, which is a normal reaction, sends a message to terrorists and to the public. However, the military still chose to make the pictures available on a Facebook page, not on print or visual media,” Abdel Zaher said.
Samir’s Facebook page has over 3.2 million likes.
Privately-owned news websites, even those that also have newspapers, posted links to a brutal video of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis beheading four Bedouins Aug. 28, after claiming the victims collaborated with Israel. It was the first decapitation made public in Egypt; IS had received worldwide attention after broadcasting U.S. journalist James Foley’s beheading earlier in August.
IS later also posted the video of the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff on Sept. 2, but because both the videos originated from Youtube, they are now unavailable for “violating Youtube policy.”
Full videos of the Bedouins being beheaded and another video of the decapitation of an Arab by IS have been available on Youtube since August.
Privately-owned television channels did not broadcast the moment of decapitation by IS or Ansar, although ONTV aired Sotloff’s execution up until the second his captor began to work his knife into the journalist’s throat.
Some of these channels, however, showed another video produced by Ansar showing the shooting of several soldiers on different occasions. At one point, the video showed four men taken out of a cab and told to lie down on the ground before a militant, filmed from behind, shot them dead.
The four plain-clothed men were reportedly off-duty military privates who were heading back to their home towns. In the video, it is not immediately clear they will be killed, as they kept saying “When we go home. We swear we will go home, we will not come here again.” A voice replied, “Just be patient.”
As an apparent religious justification for their actions, Ansar included part of a speech by Saudi extremist cleric Ibrahim al-Rubaish, who spent five years in Guantanamo Bay detention and is now in Yemen, where he said that soldiers are not forced to obey their governments and thus deserve to be killed.
Message to terrorists, message to all
“The military’s message to terrorists is that ‘if you are monitoring us, we are also monitoring you. We will kill as many of you as you have killed of us, and we will be relentless,’” Abdel Zaher said. “The message to the public is that counter-terrorism efforts are ongoing and successful.”
Essawy said that journalists and users of social networking websites should ask themselves before sharing gruesome media “how their readers and friends are going to benefit from such videos.”
“There isn’t a piece of information in brutal videos, or anything that people really need to know,” she added.
“There are customary international standards that govern reporting violence, and I hope that Egyptian news websites abide by these standards,” Rashwan told The Cairo Post over the phone.
TV presenter Eissa said that showing a photograph for authentication and documentation purposes is ok, but to repeatedly broadcast such videos, thinking it is exclusive news, allows assailants to use the media as one of its tools.
Ain Shams University Professor of Psychiatry Heba Essawy told The Cairo Post Wednesday that if scenes of beheading and torture are constantly presented to a person, inflicting pain on others will be normalized and be part of his or her conscience.
“Stop sharing violent media and look at the big picture because ultimately, it will have a toll on your family and society after people’s brains are saturated with violence, they will resort to it in any conflict.”