Now You’ve Got Russians Beheading Russians

A new video released by the Islamic State Wednesday shows a Russian-speaking fighter beheading who they identify as a Russian spy.

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A Russian-speaking Islamic State militant standing on a rocky beach and holding a large knife leans over a man kneeling in an orange jumpsuit, threatens Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then calmly decapitates his hostage.

“O Russian people, you will not find security in your home,” he says in a video released by the Islamic State Wednesday and made available by SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist activity online. “We will kill your sons for every boy you killed here, and we will demolish your houses for every house you demolished here.”

The gory scene comes at the end of the seven-and-a-half minute video, the latest in which one of the militants is shown beheading an unarmed hostage. Last month, the United States targeted Mohammed Emwazi, a British Islamic State militant better known as “Jihadi John” in a drone strike that is believed to have killed him. Emwazi has appeared in a number of videos similar to the one released Wednesday, slitting the throats of Western journalists and aid workers, including Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Those videos launched what has since become the Islamic State’s trademark style for documenting the brutal deaths of their hostages, who are typically dressed in orange jumpsuits.  

In an interview at the beginning of the video, the hostage, 23-year-old Khasayev Maghomid, says he was born in Chechnya and that Russian intelligence officials sent him to Islamic State-controlled territories to try to identify foreign fighters from the Caucasus region who were planning to return to Russia to carry out attacks. He claims he communicated regularly with Russian intelligence to offer them information about those fighters, but that at least two of those who planned to return home were killed in Islamic State territory before they could return home. According to Maghomid’s account, he was arrested by Islamic State security forces shortly after informing a contact in Russian intelligence that they should be concerned about a medical student, whose location is bleeped out in Wednesday’s video. Foreign Policy could not independently verify his claims.

In September, Chatham House released a summary of expert meetings on foreign fighters from the North Caucasus and Central Asia that estimated there were roughly 2,500 Russian fighters on the ground in Syria as part of the Islamic State, with some fighting and others serving in administrative roles. That’s over a tenfold increase from 2012, when there were only an estimated 200 Russians there. 

The growing number of Russians joining the ranks of the Islamic State has raised alarms in Moscow, which has sharply stepped up its air campaign inside Syria in the aftermath of the group’s downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula in an attack that killed 224 people. Russian authorities also worry that some of the fighters who have flooded into Iraq and Syria might return home to carry out attacks similar to those that occurred in Paris last month.

The Russian air war began in September, but the United States and its allies said the initial waves of Russian strikes hit rebel groups working to unseat Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, not the Islamic State. In the wake of the Sinai downing, however, American officials say Russia appears to be concentrating most of its firepower on the Islamic State. Either way, activists on the ground have reported growing civilian casualties from the Russian strikes, which have also helped force large numbers of Syrians from their homes.

The militant featured in Wednesday’s video reiterated claims of civilian attacks, then said the Russian airstrikes had only increased the militant group’s “certainty and steadfastness.”

“Listen to me O dog, Putin, and listen to me O his followers. The regime bombarded us before your arrival, then America and its cowardly allies bombarded us, and today, you are bombarding,” he says. “All that you have done in your bombardment is kill Muslim children, women, and elderly.”

This is not the first time the Islamic State has published videos in which they claim to execute Russian spies. Last January, a Kazakh child soldier was filmed shooting at point-blank range two men who self-identified as Russian agents.

Photo credit: SITE Intelligence Group

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