Headlines and news reports of the trial describe the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby as shocking, chilling, barbaric and callous. The reporting demonstrates a serious lack of knowledge of the prevalence and trauma affiliated with Islamist murders. The murder of Lee Rigby was incorrectly described by the prosecutor and reported by some news agencies as an attempted decapitation. The prosecutor told jurors "He was repeatedly stabbed and Adebolajo made a serious and almost successful attempt to decapitate him with multiple blows to his neck with the meat cleaver. " Rigby was not decapitated he was beheaded. The distinction between decapitation and beheading is extremely significant in the prosecution of murders in the U.S. Decapitation occurs post mortem - after death- and is designated as abuse of a corpse which is a misdemeanor. Beheading occurs perimortem - at or around the time of death while the victim is alive -and can be designated as murder involving torture which is a capital offense punishable by death. Eyewitness testimony clearly establishes that Lee Rigby was unconscious but alive while having his throat cut. Specifically, Adebolajo held Mr. Rigby's head by the hair before repeatedly hacking at the right side of his neck with a meat cleaver. Exposing the neck by grabbing the hair of the victim is the standard jihadist execution method depicted in dozens of beheading videos easily accessible on line.
Both decapitation and beheading are ritual murders that have specific symbolic significance. Mexican Cartels leave narco messages and publicly display bodies in humiliating positions. Serial killers who commit similar atrocities imbue their own symbolism, victimology and trauma into the crime. However, jihadists who commit ritual murders have a shared symbolism, trauma, victimology and motivation establishing a pattern, a 'Jihadist Modus Operandi'. The jihadist MO involves neck trauma, partial or full beheading, decapitation, and often facial and other mutilation committed by Muslim offenders whose motivation and victimology are connected to Islamist ideology or Islamic controversies. Contrary to popular belief, a jihadist MO does not always entail a complete severing of the head from the body. Typically in beheadings in Western countries the throat is slit and not detached from the body. Complete severing of the head from the body is more common in the hundreds of Islamist beheadings that occur in Muslim countries and war zones. Cause of death from sharp cuts or knife wounds to the throat often involving near decapitation is a common forensic signature of the jihadist MO. Cutting the throat is consistent with Quranic scripture verse 47:4 'So, when you meet (in fight Jihad in Allah's Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them'.
The murder of Lee Rigby was inspired by the hundreds of beheadings committed by young Mujahideen all over the world. New beheading videos appear almost every day on the internet and the offenders are glorified on jihadist internet forums, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Jihadist ritual murders are occurring more frequently in Western countries. Examples include: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston bombers, and Ibragim Todashev who ritually murdered three Jewish men in Waltham, MA on September 11, 2011. Similar to Lee Rigby their bodies had multiple stab wounds and their throats were slit from ear to ear with such force that they were nearly decapitated. The case was initially investigated as a drug deal gone wrong. On September 15, 2013 Nabil Huruy, 23, attempted to behead Canadian firefighter Dominic Parker by repeatedly stabbing him with a knife in his face, neck and head.
The attack was unprovoked and the motivation appeared to be that Parker was sitting in a Middle Eastern Toronto cafe drinking a cup of tea. Mr. Parker who had been married for 23 years had two daughters,18 and 19 years old, died two days later from severe head wounds. On February 3, 2013, 27-year-old Yusuf Ibrahim of Jersey City, N.J., shot to death two Coptic Christians before severing their heads and hands and burying their bodies in the backyard of a relative's abandoned home in Buena Vista, N.J. Since the men were decapitated and not beheaded he was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of desecration of human remains. Authorities attributed the decapitation and dismemberment as an attempt to prevent identification of the victims. That may well have been the case; however, it is difficult for a medical examiner to determine the precise cause of death and whether the bodies were decapitated perimortem or postmortem when the body is moved from the crime scene. Although the murder was not a classic beheading and the victims were shot, the fact that the victims were Coptic Christians, the offender was Muslim and it involved decapitations initially indicates a jihadist MO.
On February 12, 2009, in Suburban Buffalo, New York Muzzammil Hassan used two hunting knives to stab his wife more than forty times in the face, back and chest and then behead her while she was still conscious. Aasiya Hassan had filed for divorce a few days earlier. Muzzammil Hassan did not just shoot his wife, he bought knives and took her head with them, a classic jihadist MO. In Houston, Texas, on August 6, 2003, 23 year old Mohammed Ali Alayed, a Saudi Arabian student at Houston Community College, slashed the throat of Ariel Sellouk, a Jewish college student, with a 6-inch butterfly knife nearly decapitating him. The two were friends until Alayed became radicalized and decided to commit a jihadist ritual murder. On November 19, 2003, Sebastien Selam a 23-year-old Paris disc jockey, was jumped in the parking garage by his Muslim neighbor Adel who slit Selam's throat to the point of near-decapitation, mutilated his face with a carving fork and gouged out his eyes. Afterward Adel climbed the stairs of the apartment house and yelled, "I have killed my Jew. I will go to heaven." Four days after the murder of Lee Rigby a French soldier was stabbed in the neck with either a knife or a box cutter while on patrol on the western outskirts of Paris by a man wearing a robe and Muslim prayer cap. Inspired by the London jihadists the soldier was targeted because of his military service. These are just a few examples of jihadist beheadings committed in Western countries.
Law Enforcement should investigate these murders in the same manner as gang murders. Similar to gangs these young jihadist are protecting territory (Muslim lands), defending honor (the honor of Islam or family honor) and earning respect through violence. When these jihadist gangbangers kill they achieve status, become rock stars on jihadi internet forums and are highly respected by fellow Islamists inside and outside of prison. They are not just members of People Nation or Folk Nation alliance of street gangs, they are Mujahideen who are part of the global Islamist movement, the largest gang in the world. Unlike gang members their murders are rooted in Islamic historical and theological precedents and a vision of the afterlife that promises rewards in Paradise making these true believers much more dangerous than typical gang members.
Unsolved murders and cold case homicides need to be reexamined in the context of the jihadist M.O. For example, on November 10, 2013, local news reported that Detroit police discovered a decapitated body burned beyond recognition in a vacant school building, the former Cody Ninth Grade Academy. The little information provided said that the property on Detroit's west side was dark due to several broken streetlights and that several homes close to the building were vacant. The assumption is that this murder was the result of gang violence. There was no mention that the abandoned school is one mile away from Dearborn, MI, and the largest mosque in North America, and within a two mile radius of 5 mosques and Islamic centers. Interestingly, in the nearby town of Farmington Hills there was an ongoing controversy and long legal battle over a mosque being built. The Islamic Cultural Association, which is linked to terrorist supporting organizations, had purchased a vacant elementary school that they planned to turn into a mosque.
The combination of a jihadist MO and the symbolism of the location and its proximity to mosques in Dearborn MI should not be overlooked. Court battles over mosques are perceived as disrespecting Muslims, a dishonor to the community and a personal insult. A few weeks prior to the body being discovered the mosque officially gave up the fight for the Eagle Elementary School and acquired a property in another location. Perhaps this incited a frustrated a young jihadist. Detroit investigators similar to the Waltham detectives are more than likely investigating the murder as gang violence which is a viable direction to pursue in the investigation. It is certainly possible that the decapitation and burning of the body was a forensic countermeasure to avoid identification of the body. The body being left in a vacant school could have been chosen because of its seclusion. However it is just as reasonable to investigate evidence associated with a jihadist MO. For instance, the location of the decapitated body could have been symbolic of the vacant school in the center of the mosque controversy. Decapitation as a jihadist identifier certainly should not be excluded due to political correctness or fear of offending Muslims. There should not be any qualms in looking at any Arabic or jihad graffiti on the walls, or if the murder occurred on September 11, or if the victim was Jewish, Christian, or someone who was actively protesting against the mosque. The shocking details of the Lee Rigby murder would not be shocking at all if investigators and prosecutors recognized Jihadist identifiers and acknowledged a Jihadist MO. Who knows how many other cold case homicides are connected to Islamist ideologies and controversies that would be solved if law enforcement were not hampered by limitations on training, political correctness or prohibited from acknowledging that the motivation is the direct result of Islamist ideology. Similar to calling the Fort Hood shooting workplace violence, not recognizing Jihadist murders diminishes the threat of Islamic terrorism and hampers murder investigations.
Dawn Perlmutter Director of Symbol & Ritual Intelligence and Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum is considered one of the leading subject matter experts (SME) in the areas of symbols, unfamiliar customs, ritual murder and religious violence.
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