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May 11, 2004

In Violent Video, Zarqawi Invokes Abu Ghraib Prison Photos

By J.M. Berger

An Islamic militant Web site posted a video showing the death of Nicholas Berg, a civilian contractor working in Iraq.

In the video, Berg is beheaded by an Islamic extremist believed to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the leading terrorists in the region and the third most wanted terrorist by the U.S.

INTELWIRE has verified the screen-captured images here and those linked below against a copy of the video, which was obtained from the Muntada al-Ansar Web forum (external link). Some images are displayed below (content is not graphic but may disturb some viewers). Links to the uncensored content are found below the images.

In a statement read during the video, the man believed to be Zarqawi cited photos of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, according to a translation by Reuters: "And how can free Muslims sleep soundly as they see Islam being slaughtered, honor bleeding, photographs of shame and reports of Satanic degradation of the people of Islam, men and women, in Abu Ghraib prison?"

Later, he said: "We tell you that the honor of Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and other (prisons) are more noble than blood and lives. And you will only get shroud after shroud and coffin after coffin slaughtered in this manner."

While it's well worth noting that Zarqawi appears to have killed quite freely in the past without such a convenient pretext, the citation of Abu Ghraib is an extremely significant rhetorical development in the Terror War, and one that will likely resonate with its intended audience. (related story)

The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos (images) have created a great deal of ill will against the U.S. in Iraq and around the Arab world.

Prior to this incident, Zarqawi has never been a populist figure in Iraq. Many attacks connected to his movement have targeted Iraqi Shi'ites and those perceived as collaborating with Americans.

By positioning himself in the role of "avenger" of inustices at Abu Ghraib, it's possible Zarqawi could move into a more populist role in Iraq. However, the video may have been more directly intended to repel audiences in the U.S. than attract them in Iraq, where access to the images may end up being extremely limited.

Even in the violent setting of the Middle East, the images are too extreme for some. As of this morning, NPR was reporting that the initial response from the Iraqi public was very uncomfortable, with some indicating that the video went "too far" in responding to the Abu Ghraib images, which are still a source of strong anger.

"Those psychopaths who committed this immoral crime should be brought before justice very rapidly and get their deserved punishment," Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin told CNN.

However, the element of Iraqi society responsible for the grisly killings at Fallujah likely see the video in a different light. AFP reported that reactions on the ground in Iraq were mixed.

"From what we have seen, it was a natural reaction to the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib. What the Americans are doing now is terrible," a female dentist told AFP.

Updated 5/12/2004


Viewer discretion is advised. Images may be disturbing to some viewers.


Warning: Extremely graphic content at links below.

Full Video at the Memory Hole

Full Video at Prison Planet

Detailed Images at Arizona Radio Station's Web site

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